Six transport trends to watch in 2021

2020 saw significant changes in transport, some more temporary than others. We untangle a number of key trends that are likely to define 2021.

Electric vehicle sales accelerating

 

Electric vehicle sales surged in 2020 despite dealerships being closed for much of spring. The 119% increase (570,000 units) in EV sales stood in marked contrast to the 29% drop in total vehicles sales for the first three quarters of the year. This was largely driven by the need to comply with 2020 car CO2 targets which is expected to bring 2020’s EV market to around 10%. But caution is needed: plug-in hybrids, which T&E has shown can have emissions three to eight times higher than lab test results, saw a threefold increase in sales.

T&E will publish an analysis of the 2020 EV car sales in February.

 

The online shopping splurge keeping vans on the road

 

With shops closed, the world was forced to go online. During the first lock-down e-commerce picked up by around 30% in April compared to 2019 and individual delivery firms saw growth ranging from 15% to a whopping 50%. What this means for the climate, however, is less clear. With significantly more home deliveries, a shift to zero-emission trucks and vans is needed to ensure this doesn’t lead to more polluted cities.

This year T&E will be taking a deep dive into vans and their environmental impact, so stay tuned.

 

Who needs it anyway? Oil prices sank, don’t expect them to rise back up again

 

Oil prices fell due to a drop in demand and, despite demand picking up again, prices remain low.  Prices of petrol and diesel - before tax - dropped by a third in the EU, however, drivers saw a much smaller reduction thanks to high fuel taxation. The global price of Jet A1 fuel (aviation fuel) dropped more markedly from around €440 per thousand litres at the beginning of January to €98 per thousand litres in mid-April. With changes to fuel consumption - for example, due to electric cars and home working - it may be that 2019 was the year of peak oil.

 

(Most) flights stay grounded

 

No wonder jet fuel prices took a hit. With holidays and business trips cancelled across the world flight numbers plummeted. But not all downturns are made equal. Commercial flights suffered the most and although holiday traffic is likely to rebound to some extent, many business trips might be more dispensable in a world of Zoom and Microsoft Teams. Cargo was least affected and private jets jumped quickly back to their 2019 summer peak.

A T&E report in the coming months takes a deeper look into the world of private jet-setters.

 

The fear is real: public transport being avoided like the plague

 

Fears of airborne infection have reduced passenger numbers on buses, trams and trains across Europe (see example of the UK) with a survey finding Spaniards feeling more insecure in public transport than anywhere else - even bars. Public transport is recovering a lot slower than private motor vehicles, and despite this being a boon for walking and cycling, that’s a major problem for air pollution. Cities will need to allay fears over safety if they are to tackle air pollution (a major public health concern) and climate change.

 

The march of renewables

 

And while much economic activity ground to a halt in 2020, renewables’ continued their ascent, taking a greater chunk of energy share.

In Germany, renewable electricity generation grew 12.3 TWh, or 5.1%, compared to 2019, while at the same time coal-fired generation decreased 37.3 TWh. This reduction in coal was possible thanks to impressive renewables growth and also a reduction in total electricity demand (see chart). Belgium and the Netherlands were the major European success stories seeing 31% and 39% increases in renewables generation respectively with Italy a notable laggard.

A higher share of renewables is good news, but it is important to look at the specific type of renewable energy being used. Solar and wind energy are sustainable, burning biomass is not.