Fit for 55: Reactions to zero-emission announcements

16 July 2021

Following the European Commission’s policy proposals for a net-zero future, automotive and environmental lobby groups have had their say on the revised targets.

The proposals include reducing carbon emissions by 55% by 2030 and 100% by 2035. In addition, there is a policy amendment to increase the charging and fuelling infrastructure of zero-carbon vehicles. The emissions reduction is more challenging than the original 37.5% planned decrease by 2030, based on 2021 levels, while the 2035 target will mean an end to sales of new internal-combustion engine (ICE) models.

No more ICE

With such a significant amendment to future plans, the automotive industry is taking time to assess the impact of the proposals. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) has now commented, stating that while the industry supports the target of climate neutrality, banning a single technology is not a rational way forward at this stage.

In recent years, the automotive industry has become driven more by regulation than by competition. Carmakers have developed new technologies to meet requirements and targets set out by various governments rather than produce something different to their competitors. Traditionally, ICE models have generated larger profit margins than the alternative, which meant designing, developing and delivering entirely new powertrain options.

The push for electrically-chargeable vehicles (EVs) in recent years, has been spurred on by the 95g/km carbon emission target set for 2021. Carmakers were heavily reliant on diesel until the scandal of 2015 shone a negative light on the technology. To meet the requirements and avoid fines, plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) were required to reduce average fleet emissions. This was a challenge, and some manufacturers missed their 2020 transitional emissions levels as a result of the tight timeframes.

‘The current proposal for an even bigger cut in CO2 emissions by 2030 requires a massive further increase in market demand for electric vehicles in a short timeframe,’ stated Oliver Zipse, ACEA president and CEO of BMW. ‘Without significantly increased efforts by all stakeholders – including member states and all involved sectors – the proposed target is simply not viable.’

ACEA believes that all options, including highly efficient ICE, hybrid, BEVs and hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles (FCEVs), must play their role in the transition to climate neutrality in Europe. Zipse added that ACEA would urge all European Union (EU) institutions to focus on innovation rather than mandating or effectively banning a specific technology. ‘It is not the internal-combustion engine that is detrimental to the environment, but fossil-based fuels, the organisation stated. ‘Without the availability of renewable fuels, a 100% reduction target in 2035 is effectively a ban of the internal-combustion engine.’

Great for the environment

The proposals have received a mixed reaction from environmental lobby groups, who believe that the proposed deadlines should be brought forward to help reduce the impact of greenhouse gases sooner and avoid doing more damage to the climate.

Stef Cornelis, director, Germany, at Transport & Environment (T&E), said: ‘This is a turning point for the automotive industry and good news for drivers. The new EU regulations will increase the number of electric cars on offer and make charging affordable and easy. It is also a sustainable industrial policy. Instead of importing technologies and fuels, we will create the jobs of tomorrow in Europe and Germany. 

‘However, it is far too late to introduce binding requirements from 2030. Our planet cannot afford the automotive industry to talk a lot but do little for another nine years. That’s why we need an interim target as early as 2027.’

Greenpeace is sceptical about the plans too, stating that banning ICE vehicles in 14-years time would be too late to limit global temperature increases to just 1.5°C. ‘Celebrating these policies is like a high-jumper claiming a medal for running in under the bar,’ said Greenpeace EU director Jorgo Riss.

‘You cannot sidestep the rules of the game, just like you cannot ignore climate science. But this whole package is based on a target that is too low, does not stand up to science, and will not stop the destruction of our planet’s life-support systems. For all the hype, many policies will not kick in for 10years or more, like new polluting cars still being sold up to 2035, while others will actually fuel the fire, like labelling the burning of trees as renewable energy.’

Driver choice

While T&E stated the 100% carbon-emission reduction, meaning an end to ICE models, was good for drivers, Germany’s automotive association, the VDA, disagrees. ‘With the fleet limit of 0g planned for 2035, the EU Commission is actually proposing a ban on internal-combustion engines – this also applies to hybrids and light-commercial vehicles,’ commented VDA president Hildegard Müller.

‘This is hostile to innovation and the opposite of being open to technology. Consumers’ freedom of choice is unnecessarily restricted. The acceleration of the transformation required as a result can hardly be achieved, especially for many suppliers. The impact on jobs in this area will be significant. There is no balancing act that includes all aspects of economic and social impact.’

The proposals could also complicate market decisions for certain carmakers, especially smaller market players. Mazda, for example, is continuing the development of ICE technology alongside its EV programme and could decide to stop sales of certain models in Europe as a result. Mitsubishi has already all but pulled out of the European market, relying on alliance-partner Renault to build its models for sale on the continent instead. 

Charging policy

All groups are agreed that the proposals for an increase in charging and refuelling infrastructure for zero-carbon vehicles, such as BEVs and FCEVs, are much needed. The new proposals will benefit the transition to these technologies.

‘This will be essential to charge the millions of electric vehicles that European automakers will be bringing to market in the coming years and to deliver an unprecedented reduction of CO2 emissions in the transport sector,’ said Zipse.

However, on a first view, ACEA is concerned that the targets fall far short of what is required, with a worrying reference to just 3.5 million charging points by 2030. According to recent European Commission calculations, a further decrease of car CO2 emissions by 50% in 2030 would require around six million publicly-available charging points, the body stated.

‘The ideas are a step in the right direction and also the result of our efforts. However, the requirements must now be implemented quickly and in all member states – across the board,’ stated Müller. ‘In addition to development commitments, there is also a need for funding programs across Europe and the removal of regulatory barriers in many member states. The fuelling infrastructure for hydrogen should also be expanded much faster than proposed by the Commission.’

‘For the first time, the EU is signalling that the future of truck traffic is emission-free,’ added Cornelis. ‘It requires states to start building charging stations that will power the trucks of the future. This is great news.’