As diesel sales slump and those of electric vehicles pass one million, batteries are fast becoming a major part of the EU’s industrial future. It is not just talk this time. Investment is happening: LG Chem is planning for production in Poland and Samsung SDI is doing likewise in Hungary; NorthVolt has just signed a large loan to build a demo plant in Sweden, and Saft, a subsidiary of Total, announced a battery consortium with Siemens, Solvay and MAN. Amidst all this, the environmental benefits of electric cars are under intense scrutiny with news articles on this a regular feature in most EU countries. So, do electric cars reduce car CO2 emissions or do they just shift the problem elsewhere?
The revelations that VW, Daimler and BMW commissioned research that forced monkeys and healthy human subjects to breathe toxic diesel fumes in a perverted attempt to prove their cars were clean is abhorrent. The methods bear shocking similarities to the tactics of the tobacco industry that funded research to disprove cigarettes were harmful with the explicit goal to undermine evidence from the World Health Organisation. It reveals a blurring of moral standards in German carmakers that starkly contrasts with the glossy brands the companies spend a fortune cultivating.
The recent European Commission proposal on CO2 regulations for cars and vans to 2030 has provided the car industry with an early christmas gift. The unambitious 3%pa improvement rate and removal of a binding sales target for zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) followed last minute lobbying by carmakers. With Vice President Sefcovic, and the architects of the package Commissioners Cañete, Bulc and Bienkowksa all aligned in favour of a system of credits and, crucially, debits for carmakers that exceeded or breached a ZEV sales target, the package was virtually finalised before a last-minute intervention diluted the proposal.
On 8 November the European Commission has the opportunity to transform the European car industry and keep Europe safe and competitive in a decarbonised world. On that day the EU executive will propose a law that regulates the fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions of new cars and vans. The choices it makes – what level of ambition, a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate or not, 2025 target or not – will determine the future of the European and global auto industry.
Last month’s disclosure in Der Spiegel of a cartel between Volkswagen, BMW, Audi, Porsche and Mercedes bore striking similarities to the recently concluded truck case that lead to a fine of almost €3 billion. In that case, truckmaker MAN (also part of VW) blew the lid on the fixing of prices charged to customers for better emissions control systems needed to meet new regulations and how these costs were passed on to customers. Five companies were fined including the Mercedes truck division Daimler.
After many false dawns the electric car is finally on a trajectory to replace the internal combustion engine.
It is nearly 200 years (1824) since French physicist Joseph Fourier first describes the Earth's natural "greenhouse effect".
The battle over the type of cars we will drive in 2030 is heating up and so are the claims and counterclaims about the impact on jobs. This week the European Parliament voted for a 40% reduction in new car CO2 emissions between 2020/1 and 2030 much more than the 30% proposed by the European Commission. Parliament also introduced real world checks to stop the industry gaming laboratory tests.
Most regulatory fights on vehicle emission regulations ultimately boil down to one iconic number battle. A few technical disputes get less attention but have a much bigger impact on the stringency of the new rules than a few percent up or down on the headline target. The ongoing discussions over car and van CO2 regulations for 2030 follow this pattern.
What scientists have been predicting for decades is now happening: the planet is getting hotter. This summer temperatures around the world were well above the average. In Europe temperature records were broken. What makes this extra scary is that this is only the beginning.