An interview with Greg Archer
Europe needs to bring electric vehicle production home and replace diesel vehicles faster to regain a leading role in the energy transition in the transport sector.
What is at stake in the current proposal to set future CO2 limits for cars and vans?
If the battle to transform our cars is lost we will not be able to deliver on the 2015 Paris Climate Commitments. Transport is Europe’s biggest climate problem representing over a quarter of all emissions and are still rising. Road transport is ¾ of all transport emissions and ¾ of these emissions are from cars and vans. Without meaningful CO2 cuts from cars and vans, transport emissions will not be put in check, and many EU Member States will not be able to reach their 2030 CO2 targets and the EU will default on its overall targets. If the EU, one of the leading advocates for the Paris Accord, cannot meet its goals it will have no credibility to push other countries to meet theirs, and to go further as will be needed to decarbonize by 2050. An unambitious car CO2 proposal could have global consequences in our efforts to avoid dangerous climate change.
Transport is Europe’s biggest climate issue representing over ¼ of all emissions and rising.
We need to make sure that the last combustion car is sold by 2035. To tackle rising transport carbon emissions, we need to set an ambitious and binding CO2 standards for 2025 and 2030. We need to both encourage companies producing zero emission vehicles while penalizing those declining to supply such vehicles, and ensure the emissions cuts are delivered on the road not just in distorted emissions tests. We urge member states to commit to a clean future and not perpetuate cars dirty diesel past.
For trucks, CO2 standards are on the table for the first time. Does this help?
Trucks represent 4% of vehicles but 25% of CO2 emissions on our roads and CO2 standards for heavy duty vehicles are overdue. The European Commission proposal is a good first step, and with more efficient trucks, long-haulers and logistics companies can make money saving fuel! But they would save even more money with more ambition and with a 35% emission cuts by 2030: €15,000 per vehicle per year would be saved.
What about electric buses? Are they ready to operate now?
Electric buses are ready today and bring substantial benefits to cities, with no pollutant emissions and very low noise levels. In China, there are over 400,000 electric buses on the roads; Europe is lagging miles behind. Some cities are making tentative commitments to procure zero emission buses, but more is needed to drive the market and supporting European electric bus manufacturers such as Solaris or Alstom.
The revision of the Clean Vehicles Directive proposed by the European Commission in November 2017 could accelerate electric bus uptake in European cities, thus significantly improving air quality and noise levels. The truck CO2 proposal also sets incentives for zero emission trucks (and buses). We support this idea strongly but the Commission proposal (super-credits) creates hot air by double counting clean vehicle sales. A different system of credits and debits is needed to stimulate innovation and provide investment security for companies, also European ones.
Serious concerns have been raised regarding battery sustainability. Are electric vehicles really that clean?
There’s no doubt that the overall environmental impact of electric vehicles depends partly on how the battery is produced. It is crucial batteries are manufactured with low carbon electricity, using materials extracted in a socially and environmentally responsible way. The emergence of an EU battery industry is a key step towards building more sustainable batteries for electric vehicles. Today, CO2 emissions from cars measured over their entire life-cycle are substantially better than the equivalent diesel model – even in Poland with its coal-dominated generation.
Electricity is getting cleaner each year and will be fully decarbonized by 2050 – oil for cars will be no longer so electric cars represent the low carbon and clean choice today and the only credible way to decarbonize light vehicles in the future. Oil production also causes environmental catastrophes such as the pollution of the Niger Delta, Deepwater Horizon and Exxon Valdez. All vehicle production causes some harm but going electric can minimize the damage.
Is the lack of available charging points holding back EV uptake?
Contrary to mainstream belief, there are currently enough charging points in the EU for the number of electric vehicles on the road. This will be the case in 2020 too if Member States deliver on their plans to roll out EV charging infrastructure. We have tackled the chicken-and-egg dilemma by putting in place a minimal initial infrastructure. Now we need to tackle the lack of supply and choice of electric cars: European drivers can choose from nearly 400 different conventional cars, but they only have 30 different options when it comes to fuel cells and battery electric vehicles. Policy-makers should know this needs to change if we are serious about cleaning road transport. Once electric cars are selling at around 5% of new sales business will step in to make available the recharging infrastructure that is needed.
In China, there are over 400,000 electric buses on the roads; Europe is lagging miles behind.
If Europe’s automotive industry does not prepare for future, cleaner electric technologies, EVs will soon be imported from China. European car-makers invest 7 times more in EV production in China than in the EU! The shift to electric cars is as essential for the future of the automotive industry as it is for tackling climate change.