With more than 300 million vehicles on the roads of Europe, it is not surprising that passenger cars and vans are also near the top of the list for greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, cars and vans make up around 15% of total EU carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
The industry is firmly in the sights of Europe’s hugely ambitious programme for a green economic transition, particularly the EU’s ‘Green Deal’ / ‘Fit for 55’ package of legislation that seeks to reduce net greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030.
But as Europe’s largest and most successful single export sector, ensuring that ‘world-leading’ ambitions and targets don’t fatally wound an enduring industrial success story should be equally important. The EU is the world’s largest exporter of passenger cars, and the automotive industry accounts for one-fifth of the EU’s balance of payments surplus and as many as 13.8 million jobs.
Europe’s politicians cannot afford to get this wrong.
So far, the industry and politicians appear to be relatively comfortable travelling companions. “The car industry has really embraced the idea that they need to decarbonise. There’s always going to be a discussion at what pace, but I think they’ve understood that this is the way forward,” says Commission Executive Vice-President and Green Deal head honcho, Frans Timmermans.
But is the automotive industry being too relaxed? Should they let the Commission remain in the driving seat?
As the Fit for 55 package of legislation reaches the end of its scrutiny period in the European Parliament and Council of Ministers, important decisions must be made – not least about the pace of change and the breadth of new technologies that will be encouraged and supported.
In the past few years, the primary focus for European carmakers has decidedly become electric vehicles. Whilst there are still many advocates of alternatives, including hydrogen fuel cells and biofuels (and nearly all the proposed legislation is carefully worded to include them), most of the biggest European car manufacturers have EVs as their primary focus.
But there is also a growing fear that in forcing through new restrictions, the European carmakers could be left trying to export European climate change ambitions to the rest of the world and in reality, simply end up exporting fewer European cars. Drivers won’t want to buy an electric battery-powered Mercedes if they live in a country that doesn’t have sufficient EV charging points.