2021 brought some relief to many of us stuck in our flats in 2020. Like many, I finally travelled back home to spend time with my parents and enjoy the long Latvian summer days. But white sand and sea were not the only things I noticed as I strolled through my town.
Silent cars were zipping past, first a Tesla, then a Renault Zoe. “Still dreaming of work?” I asked myself. And then it hit me: e-mobility has arrived even to my small corner of the world. Electric cars are becoming common everywhere.
The sales boom that started last year as the EU 2020/21 CO2 emissions rules kicked in, reached new highs in 2021. Almost every fifth car bought in Europe this year has a plug, with half of these fully electric. Despite the supply chain problems and the chip crisis, electric car sales have grown 500% compared to 2019 and are reaching the tipping point. What happened in 2021?
A year of EV Days
2021 was the year of glossy “EV days” as carmakers boasted their beefed up e-mobility pledges in an attempt to woo investors. Highlights included VW’s pledge to stop selling diesel and petrol engines in Europe by 2035, Renault bringing back its nostalgic R4 as electric, and Daimler making the turn for a better (electric) future away from big polluting hybrids. But despite many promising commitments, T&E has shown that most carmakers still lack a credible plan to get there on time.
The boom in European battery investments continued this year, including VW’s plans to build six European battery cell gigafactories by 2030 and Britishvolt in the UK. If all plans are met, T&E estimates that Europe will have a battery cell supply of over 1000 GWh by 2030 – enough to electrify 90% of domestic car sales by 2030.
More nations ditch the combustion car
Industry commitments do not have a good track record, though. It will be government policies that will define how fast Europe and the rest of the world embraces e-mobility. 2021 saw more nations pledge to stop selling combustion cars on their territory. Both Canada and Chile pledged to ban the sales of combustion cars and vans by 2035.
The biggest announcement came on 14th July (no, not Bastille Day!) when the European Commission presented proposals for the entire EU – the world’s second largest car market – to only allow zero emission cars and vans from 2035. This EU momentum turned global when almost 40 governments, including India, Poland, Rwanda and Uruguay committed to have all new cars and vans zero emission by 2040 globally (and earlier in leading markets). Many cities, companies and investors joined the call to signal a truly global shift to electrification.
From words to a credible plan
All this momentum is welcome. But we now need a credible plan to reach all these targets. If we continue ramping up electric vehicle sales as seen in the last 2 years – via higher 2025 and 2027 car CO2 targets in Europe and ZEV mandates in the UK – an average electric car can be cheaper than a petrol one as early as 2026. But the EU proposals only increase ambition after 2030, risking a lost decade on EVs.
Beyond regulations to ramp up EVs in the 2020s, we need other measures. Starting with a stronger plan on infrastructure – at both EU and national level – to roll out public charge points across EU roads and cities, as well as private ones at home and work. But it is not just about the numbers: where they are and how fast and easy they allow drivers to charge, or pay, will determine how quickly electric cars go mainstream.
A lot of batteries – and minerals to make them – will be needed to electrify cars, vans, trucks and buses. Europe is about to agree on the first ever law globally to ensure battery metals are sourced responsibly, produced with clean energy, and reused and recycled. With the battery investments booming, the law should be agreed urgently (not delayed as some governments want).
Sustainably produced electric cars, ubiquitous charging and accelerated progress in the 2020s are key for governments to meet their zero emission targets in the 2030s. 2021 was the year of big words, 2022 should be the year of big action.