The European Commission wants to end the sale of new gasoline and diesel cars by 2035, as part of a broad plan to fight climate change unveiled on Wednesday.
According to one of the twelve ambitious climate bills unveiled in Brussels, emissions from motor vehicles must fall by 55% by 2030 and fall to zero by 2035.
“As a result, all new cars registered from 2035 will be zero emissions,” the statement announcing the plan said.
This would mean in practice that all cars and vans sold from that date on would be battery electric cars, which currently represent less than a tenth of new registrations in the EU.
But the move will be fiercely opposed by some members of the industry lobby as it winds its way through an intense negotiation and drafting process and scrutiny in the European Parliament.
And caution is in order among member states like France, Germany, Spain and Italy, which have large sectors making traditional combustion engine and hybrid vehicles and supporting thousands of jobs.
Politicians fear motorists will see fuel prices rise due to carbon taxes as they are pressured into selling their gas guzzlers and buying new electric cars.
The recent “yellow vests” protests in France have given European governments a chilling example of the kind of populist fury that environmental controls on cars can provoke.
But European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen insisted the transition was vital if Europe is to meet emissions reduction targets and the public rallies to it.
“About a dozen major automakers, both in Germany and elsewhere in Europe, have announced that they will switch their fleets to exclusively emission-free vehicles,” she noted.
“We see people wanting these developments, there has been a huge increase in the number of registrations for electric vehicles,” she said, arguing that the US market has tripled in the past year.
Motorized road transport is the most common means of transport for Europeans, but it accounts for 15% of the bloc’s greenhouse gas emissions and Brussels aims to be carbon neutral by 2050.
The economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic has hit the road vehicle market hard, but electric cars have been an exception, with growth accelerating.
Battery cars accounted for eight percent of new registrations in Western Europe in the first five months of this year, with 356,000 new vehicles, more than in 2019.
– ‘Go to the wall’ –
The impending new regulations will increase this trend, as they will not only doom conventional gasoline and diesel engines, but effectively constrain hybrid and plug-in hybrid models.
These were once seen as a transitional technology, a key product for an industry that boasts of employing 14.6 million workers in Europe.
The automotive lobby is resigned to supporting the changeover to the euro, but would like help from Europe, particularly in terms of developing a network of charging stations for battery-powered cars.
The industry is divided on the best way forward, with some executives warning that a rushed transition will push prices up and favor Chinese competitors who have a lead in battery technology.
But European giant Volkswagen, which accounts for one in four sales on the continent, has followed American champion Tesla in supporting an all-electric future.
In 2015, the firm was at the heart of a scandal over rigged emissions tests on diesel engines, and is keen to restore its image with the public and regulators.
Volkswagen plans to stop selling internal combustion engine vehicles between 2033 and 2035.
© 2021 AFP