It’s Not Tesla That’s Pushing Europe in Electric-Car Race

Updated on
  • Draft EU law seeks tighter auto-emission limits for 2025, 2030
  • European Commission plan offers incentives for electric autos
Why Electric Cars Aren't Taking Over Yet

Electric-car production in the European Union got a spur on Wednesday as EU regulators acted to close a technological gap with China by seeking stricter emission curbs on manufacturers such as Volkswagen AG and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV.

The European Commission, the EU’s regulatory arm, proposed a 30 percent reduction in car discharges of carbon dioxide by 2030 compared with 2021 levels, as part of a stepped-up fight against global warming. The plan, which will progressively tighten existing CO2 limits, features incentives for automakers to shift to electric vehicles.

“There’s a component of trying to facilitate the development of a powerful car-manufacturing industry of electric vehicles,” Miguel Arias Canete, EU climate and energy commissioner, said in an interview Tuesday in his Brussels office. “There will be a race for developing clean-energy vehicles. We are seeing that others are taking the global lead.”

Europe is gearing up for a technological revolution in road transport that would push the traditional internal combustion engine from showrooms into museums in a bid to retain leadership in the worldwide market for passenger cars.

The commission is taking advantage of the landmark climate-protection agreement reached by almost 200 countries in Paris in late 2015 to get a grip on European road-transport pollution, which has bucked a general trend of falling EU discharges of greenhouse gases including CO2 that are blamed for climate change. Under the Paris accord, the EU aims to slash such pollution by at least 40 percent in 2030 compared with 1990.

Read more: Why the Car After Your Next Car Will Be an Electric: QuickTake

As China expands its electric-vehicle prowess with the blunt policy of quotas, Europe is counting on a more nuanced approach that would force carmakers to choose between making the combustion engine cleaner or abandoning it in favor of electric vehicles.

Not Tesla

“If you see what’s happening in the U.S. and you see the figures of Tesla production in 2016 the production of Tesla cars was around 80,000 cars,” Canete said. “The big problem is China, which has a mandatory target of 10 percent in 2019, 12 percent in 2020 and 7.5 million vehicles per year in the future.”

The Chinese market already boasts 400 types of electric vehicles, whereas Europe has six, according to Canete. India, meanwhile, aims for all new passenger cars sold by 2030 to be electric. “If you see the figures from the EU at the moment it’s 1 percent of the fleet,” Canete said.

“There is a huge gap between the European Union, which invented the car, and developing countries,” Canete said. “This proposal has this element of incentives in order to induce car manufacturers to come along with a substantial number and a substantial variety of electric vehicles.”

The commission proposal, which will need the approval of EU governments and the European Parliament in a process that usually takes more than a year, also includes 800 million euros ($927 million) for the development of infrastructure to charge electric autos, Canete said.

The planned incentives for electric-vehicle production will take the form of credits against the stricter CO2 targets. The EU’s current caps on CO2 from cars are 130 grams a kilometer set for 2015 and 95 grams fixed for 2021.

The existing limits are averages for the EU fleet as a whole, with individual manufacturers having specific targets backed by financial penalties. The system of penalties for breaches will remain in place for the 2025 and 2030 limits, according to Canete.

— With assistance by Chris Reiter

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