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  • Spain advances towards electric mobility but more European spirit is needed

    Renault’s recent engagement with the Spanish government was a sign that the transformation of Europe’s automotive industry remains trapped in nation state thinking.

    Transport decarbonisation in Spain got off to a good start in 2021. The EU’s vast recovery funds would present Spain with a big opportunity to invest in the future of green mobility. The year also saw the adoption of the Spanish climate change and energy transition law – a major breakthrough in promoting zero emission mobility and shifting away from unsustainable fuels. We also welcomed the government making low emission zones mandatory in cities with more than 50,000 inhabitants and in island territories, and to bring forward the nationwide implementation to 2023.

    And arguably the biggest moment came in July, when the European Commission proposed ambitious new car CO2 standards which would force carmakers to produce more zero-emission vehicles. With the proposal now taking its legislative train ride through the EU’s co-decision making process, member states’ ambition to cut road emissions has been put into question. For the Spanish government this is a moment of reckoning. It claims to prioritise climate action. So will prime minister, Pedro Sanchez, and minister for ecological transition, Teresa Ribera, support the EU’s plan?

    Echoing T&E’s and the Commission’s calls, the UN invited leading manufacturing countries to phase out the production of internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2035. A worrying signal was Spain’s refusal to sign up to the UK-led UN declaration on shifting to 100% zero emission vehicles. Spain is Europe’s second most important carmaker, but its manufacturing capabilities are largely focused on combustion engines. This makes the transformation both more challenging and more necessary. A positive signal in this respect was the decision to dedicate 10% of its €140 billion budget recovery plan to electromobility.

    Spain’s ambition on car CO2 standards will depend on whether  EV manufacturing is awarded to Spanish factories. The Volkswagen Group plans to build the third of its six European battery gigafactories in Spain and, from 2025 onwards, produce five new electric vehicles in Martorell and Navarra.

    But more European spirit is needed. Luca de Meo, the CEO of French carmaker Renault, has urged the Spanish government to veto the EU combustion engine phase out by 2035. Renault warned that the Spanish government’s support for a 2035 phase out could negatively affect the future award of models to factories in Valencia, Valladolid and Seville, which have been selected to assemble five cars, two gearboxes and an engine, generating more than €12 billion. The Renaulution roadmap is clear: while French factories will be in charge of pure electric models, the Spanish plants will be producing five new hybrid SUVs in 2022-2024.

    What this reveals is that the lack of a European industrial policy in the field of automotion is damaging for Europe’s ambition to remain both, one of the biggest producers of motor vehicles, and the world’s climate champion. As long as nation state thinking drives strategic industrial decisions – i.e. the award by Renault of zero emission models exclusively to domestic production sites – the European Union will fail to make its powerful automotive industry future-proof and meet its climate targets.

    Over now to heads of state and the European Parliament to commit to cleaning up all cars produced on the continent, and in doing so leave behind the anachronistic nation state thinking that is damaging the climate and Europe’s economy.

    Overall, the year was a good one for the climate in Spain. But more Europeanism will be needed next year.