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?
Earlier this year, the European Parliament voted on the renewable energy directive (RED). While the outcome was not ideal, we welcomed Parliament’s vote because it caps food-based biofuels, redirects investments into the fuels of the future (electricity, advanced biofuels) and ends support for palm oil biodiesel.
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.
Emails released to Transport & Environment after an 18 month-long appeal process have confirmed that when crafting CO2 rules for aircraft, the European Commission – the regulator – gave Airbus – the regulated entity – privileged access to the EU decision-making process and allowed Airbus to determine the EU position. The result is a standard which does nothing for the climate or public health.
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.
The discussion about Europe’s biofuels policy is in full swing and the biofuels industry has assembled an impressive lobbying army to spread the gospel. Hardly a day goes by without the biofuels industry organising some event to promote the benefits of biodiesel and ethanol. This is a good indication of how important EU legislation is for biofuel producers. Indeed, growing crops and then turning them into fuels to burn in combustion engines is a costly and inefficient business. The truth is the biofuels industry was created and survives on generous and sustained support in the form of mandates, tax breaks and subsidies.
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.
This is the fifth in a series of eight snippets about how to decarbonise land freight by 2050. Based on a new T&E study, the series will culminate in a public debate in Brussels in September.
After many false dawns the electric car is finally on a trajectory to replace the internal combustion engine.