How to make half Europe’s cars electric by 2030

A strategy for turning Europe’s car fleet from fossil-fuel-powered to electric has been outlined in a new study for T&E. It suggests the continent must set a target of electric cars making up more than a half of all new vehicles sold by 2030, and that to achieve this joint efforts must now begin between the EU, member states and industry.

Electric vehicles are likely to gain in popularity even if there is little action to promote them, but their evolution will happen far too slowly to tackle air pollution and climate change challenges for which the EU has emissions reduction targets. In particular, if transport is to play its part in reaching the EU’s target of a more than 80% reduction in greenhouse gases between 1990 and 2050, all cars and vans will have to be zero-emission by 2050. This means an end to selling cars with an internal combustion engine by 2035.

In Speeding up European Electro-Mobility, the Swedish academics Christian Berggren and Per Kågeson set out the multiple challenges that must be faced if Europe is to meet a realistic interim target of 50% new electric vehicles by 2030. Their biggest policy recommendation is for the EU to decide soon that from 2025 there will be a zero-emission vehicle sales mandate across the European market, similar to the ZEV policies recently announced in China and existing in California. This would not only send a signal to the automotive industry that the EU is serious about cutting emissions, but also provide investment security for the sector to improve their electric offer.

The report covers all aspects of electro-mobility, from the scarcity of minerals needed for battery production to the cost of owning an e-vehicle, which is likely to be equal to that of combustion vehicles in the early 2020s.

The authors say there is an urgent need for investment in battery production capacity in Europe, because without it there will not be enough batteries to meet demand. If the EU’s fleet were to be half battery-electric, half plug-in hybrids by 2030, seven ‘giga-plants’ of the size of Tesla’s Arizona factory would be needed. This will also create jobs in Europe, but with 5-7 years needed to commission a battery plant, decisions and incentives need to come now.

Electrifying half the vehicle fleet by 2030 would raise the demand for electricity, but only by about 4% – yet while this figure is modest, it will come at a time when many nuclear power stations are being decommissioned, so the impact of electro-mobility on electricity demand may be greater, but is also likely to be met by cheaper renewables. The authors also cover the energy profile of battery production which needs to run with low-carbon electricity and use capacity efficiently.

T&E’s e-mobility officer Julia Hildermeier said: ‘This is a comprehensive analysis of the benefits and challenges of electrifying Europe’s vehicle fleet. Transport is behind schedule in terms of playing its part in emissions reduction, largely because the growth in vehicle use and slow progress reducing emissions. Here we have a plan for getting half-way to where we need to be in 2050, based on a wealth of compelling evidence. EU leaders and officials need to engage with this impressive piece of work and turn it into reality, starting by setting a sales target for zero emission vehicles in 2025 as part of the upcoming November Transport Package.’

Kågeson, who was T&E’s second president (1992-96), and Berggren focus mainly on purely battery-powered vehicles, but also see a role for plug-in hybrid vehicles – they say hybrids could play an important transitional role but in a ZEV mandate system should only be given half the value of any credits compared with battery e-vehicles, and then only if they have an electric range of at least 50km. The authors consider the merits of fuel cell vehicles but do not see a big role for them in the long term for cars.

They also call for the immediate abolition of ‘supercredits’ from existing EU legislation – a multiplier producing hot air in the system instead of rewarding actual sales – and that charging points for e-vehicles are needed in homes and at work places but also fast chargers along core highways.