Switching from polluting engines to emissions-free electric vehicles is crucial to decarbonising cars, which are responsible for 13% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Europe.

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Road to net zero

To achieve a net zero transport system by 2050, only emissions-free cars should be sold from 2035 at the very latest – which EU law now requires carmakers to do. The most optimal, efficient and convenient zero emission technology available to drivers across Europe today is battery electric cars.

Analyses of full lifecycle emissions show that electric cars in Europe emit, on average, almost three times less CO2 than equivalent petrol/diesel cars.

Electric cars hit nearly 16% sales share in Europe in 2023, up from around 2% in 2019.

13% Share of emissions from cars (2022)

10.9m cars Car production in the EU (2022)

10.5m cars Car registration in Europe (2023)

1.5m cars Battery electric car registrations in the EU (2023)

Making the transition

Electrification must happen sustainably and not leave anyone behind. That means reforming taxes, adapting supply chains, developing seamless charging networks, and ensuring batteries are produced sustainably.

At the same time, ambitious targets for carmakers are needed to ensure they reduce the average emissions of new cars sold. Their current target is a 15% reduction in 2025, based on 2021 levels, a 55% cut in 2030, and 100% in 2035 – ensuring the last new fossil-fuel cars are sold before then. This is necessary if the last polluting cars are to be off the road by 2050 and we are to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Thanks to the EU CO2 standard for cars, European carmakers have finally gotten serious about selling electric cars – sales reached nearly 16% across Europe in 2023. The next step is to ramp up the supply of compact EVs to satisfy demand in the mass market so as to make clean cars truly available to all.

Cost of electric cars

While purchase prices for most EV models are currently still higher than comparable diesel and petrol cars, electric cars are expected to reach parity with conventional models in the mid-2020s. The volatility of raw material prices and supply chain constraints could delay this by 1-2 years. However, the total costs of ownership (TCO) is already lower for most EVs when taking into account how much it costs to fuel, maintain and insure the car. Smartly designed taxation is key to make electric cars more affordable, notably bonus-malus tax systems that compensate financial support for zero emission cars with higher taxes on polluting vehicles.

But despite EV production costs reaching parity with combustion engines, carmakers are not delivering entry level models at volume. Instead they have focused on selling larger, more profitable BEVs. While there have been some announcements by European carmakers that cheaper compact models will be coming in 2024-2027 such as the Renault 5 and Volkswagen ID.2, less than 50,000 cars of the announced cheap models are expected to be produced for Europe in 2024 which is unlikely to satisfy demand. This leaves the European compact, mass market wide open to Chinese competition.

The arrival of more affordable, small electric cars would hasten the uptake of zero-emission cars in Europe. A YouGov survey for T&E in 2023 found that one-quarter of new car buyers already intended to buy an electric car in the next year. But when given the option of a small €25,000 electric car, the share of new car buyers willing to buy a battery electric model increases to 35%.

Electric cars and jobs

The car industry is experiencing the greatest transition it has ever faced. It is a moment at which European companies must adapt and change to survive - or be overtaken by US, Korean and Chinese competitors. But despite apocalyptic warnings, new jobs in the EV supply chain will make up for the anticipated job losses in the traditional ICE-focussed automotive sector. The challenge is making sure Europe’s workers have the right skills for these new jobs. A Boston Consulting Group analysis found that by 2030, 2.8 million workers will need to be hired and 2.4 million positions will have a changing job profile with different degrees of training needs. Employment numbers will remain constant, it said.

Europe is in a global race to capture the benefits of the new EV value chain and there is a lot to lose in terms of competitiveness and jobs if Europe dithers on electrification now. With EV sales and e-mobility value chains gathering pace in China and the US, Europe should make clear that it will not waterdown its 2035 target to reach 100% zero-emission car sales. The greatest threat to our car industry and jobs is if Europe loses the technology race - becoming dependent on Chinese battery makers and losing global car market share to foreign rivals. Chinese OEMs are already making headway into the EU EV market.

Sustainable and responsible

To ensure the transition to e-mobility is fully sustainable and socially responsible, it must be underpinned by a green, ethical and world-leading battery supply chain in Europe. The EU Batteries Regulation, for the first time, sets environmental protections throughout the entire life cycle of batteries – including the sourcing of raw materials, production and recycling. Meanwhile, new EU due diligence rules will address concerns around potential human rights abuses linked to the extraction of battery raw materials. The bloc’s Critical Raw Materials Act will require some of the metals value chain, notably refining, processing and recycling, to be on-shored to Europe. Find out more in the batteries section.

Key statistics

Share of emissions from cars (2022)

13% of EU’s overall greenhouse gas emissions, or 59% of EU road transport emissions

CO2 limits translated into fuel consumption

2021: 115g/km = 5.0 litres/100km (petrol)

2025: 93g/km = 4.0 litres/100km

2030: 49g/km = 2.1 litres/100km

Cost saving of a 115gCO2/km car for the average driver

Around €480 a year, based on today’s pump prices and compared to 2015 CO2 target.

Car production in the EU (2022)
Car registration in the EU (2023)
EV registrations in the EU (2023)