Largely because EV adoption is much slower and uneven than it should, but is that the real concern?

When Toyota offered the world a hybrid car, the Prius, Europe preferred to bet on diesel cars to lower CO2 emissions. Then the WHO (World Health Organization) said these vehicles fumes could cause cancer, but the most significant damage to the engine technology was Dieselgate. Now, ACEA – European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association – fears CO2 reduction targets will not be met. Mostly because the adoption of “alternatively-powered vehicles” is not only slow but also uneven. Or so it says.

Gallery: Check ACEA's 2019 Zero-Emission Mobility Progress Report Main Graphics

If you are not familiar with these targets, they refer to the Regulation (EU) 631/2019. It established tailpipe CO2 emissions of new cars should drop 15 percent by 2025 and 37.5 percent by 2030. This regulation follows another one – (EU) 443/2009 – that ruled a 95g CO2/km for the fleet of new cars sold in the EU by 2021. At this point, ACEA thinks it is very unlikely to get there.

While some countries have many charging points and a significant market share for EVs, others have just a handful of the former and almost irrelevant numbers for the latter. This inequality is one of the main reasons ACEA believes it will not be easy to get there without government help. From all EU governments.

ACEA Fears CO2 Emission Reduction TargetsIn Europe Won’t Be Met

Dieselgate went public in 2015, but it was developing since 2014. In that year, diesel car sales had a European market share of 55 percent. That started to drop sharply and, in 2016, it fell below 50 percent. Currently, their share is around 35 percent.

ACEA Fears CO2 Emission Reduction TargetsIn Europe Won’t Be Met

Since correlation does not imply causation, ACEA shows that, in 2016, CO2 emission levels for new cars started to go up. That had not happened since 2007. The explanation the report suggests is that diesel cars were simply replaced by regular gasoline-powered vehicles, not by “alternatively-powered vehicles.”

ACEA Fears CO2 Emission Reduction TargetsIn Europe Won’t Be Met

The automaker’s association chose these terms because it does not refer merely to EVs or hybrids. They also include natural gas, ethanol (E85), and LPG-powered vehicles. The adoption rate for these vehicles is not keeping pace with the people that went from diesel to gasoline cars – or straight to the former.

According to ACEA, from 2014 up to 2018, the number of vehicles powered by gasoline had a 3.2-million units increase. In the same period, the number of diesel cars shrunk in 1.2 million units. All the 2 million units market expansion went to petrol cars, as the British refer to them.

You’d expect all diesel vehicles would have been replaced by “alternatively-powered vehicles,” right? Not in Europe: only 634,000 more of these cars were sold from 2014 to 2018. Only 232,000 of them were what ACEA calls “electrically-chargeable cars” – ECVs, or else, EVs and PHEVs. The other 402,000 vehicles were regular hybrids.

ACEA Fears CO2 Emission Reduction TargetsIn Europe Won’t Be Met

What about the other “alternatively-powered vehicles?” They sold 9,200 units less than in 2014, which makes the “alternatively-powered vehicles” increase be of 624,800 vehicles. FCEVs managed to have a 600 percent increase: starting from 38 in 2014, they sold 266 units in 2018. Despite the efforts some automakers claim to make with fuel-cell vehicles, truth is they still have to prove to be a viable option.

ACEA Fears CO2 Emission Reduction TargetsIn Europe Won’t Be Met

One aspect the report explores is that some governments do not provide any incentives for EV buying. Check the map below and the list of European countries with no incentives, according to ACEA.

ACEA Fears CO2 Emission Reduction TargetsIn Europe Won’t Be Met

It is not entirely correct. For example, Portugal has a €3,000 incentive for people and €2,250 for companies. EVs cannot have a total cost higher than €62,500, and there are only €3 million available for the whole country. In 2019, the funds ran out in September. 

On the other hand, the ACEA report states Romania has one of the highest incentives for EV purchase, with up to €11,500. Yet, their market share there does not go beyond 0.5 percent. That is a clear example that the lack of incentives alone does not explain poor EV adoption.

ACEA Fears CO2 Emission Reduction TargetsIn Europe Won’t Be Met

The report also makes strange conclusions, such as that only countries with a GDP per capita higher than €42,000 have EV market shares above 3.5 percent. And that is also not consistent, as if ACEA chose some numbers to make a point that does not sustain itself.

The association says only four EU countries have an ECV market of over 2.5 percent, but it does not name them. We found out ACEA was speaking of Sweden, Netherlands, Finland, and Portugal.

ACEA Fears CO2 Emission Reduction TargetsIn Europe Won’t Be Met

The Portuguese love EVs. The country has an ECV market share of 3.4 percent. And a GDP per capita of $23,186.27 – or around €20,800 at current exchange rates – according to Statista.com. It does not fit any of the descriptions of ACEA: it has one of the lowest GDPs per capita in EU and one of the highest ECV market shares. 

The association conveniently decided to choose 3.5 percent of market participation instead of, let’s say, 3.4 percent, and to use Norway as an example that a high GDP per capita implies in massive EV adoption. It is worth stressing that Norway does not belong in the EU. Even so, Jon Winding-Sørensen, from BilNorge.no, kindly clarified Norway follows the EU regulations.

"Statistics have shown that we adopt more of the EU regulations than the EU members themselves!"

 

ACEA Fears CO2 Emission Reduction TargetsIn Europe Won’t Be Met

The curious note is that the Portuguese love EVs precisely because of their low GDP per capita. Because most do not have much money to spend and try to save in all ways possible. When you see the many crops around the country, you think the Portuguese people have not abandoned their farming roots. The truth is that many grow their own food so that they can save on that.

EVs are popular in the country because they make financial sense. Because gasoline is expensive, and charging an EV is much cheaper than stopping at the gas station. They may be more costly to buy, but they demand much less money later on refueling and servicing.

ACEA Fears CO2 Emission Reduction TargetsIn Europe Won’t Be Met

Above all, the Portuguese love to drive and cover long distances with their cars every year. EVs are a perfect fit for people that travel a lot, despite cheaper EVs offering lower ranges. In other words, the Portuguese want EVs because they help them save money, not necessarily for any concern with the environment. That would be a plus.

If that was not the case and ACEA had a point in stating only richer countries can afford EVs, what would its suggestion be to meet the CO2 reduction targets? Promote economic growth for all countries that have low GDPs per capita? Or try to convince the EU the goals are not feasible and should be revised?

ACEA Fears CO2 Emission Reduction TargetsIn Europe Won’t Be Met

Europe governments do not have a lot of money to spare on zero-emission mobility. Some are fighting to pay their bills and to provide services they decided to assume, such as healthcare and education, at decent levels. Some are not managing to do so.

The ACEA study shows the automotive industry still has to discover what the Portuguese drivers already have. Yes, electric cars threaten the car industry as we know it, as PSA Group electric and connected boss Helen Lees told Autocar. 

They do that precisely because they are more energy-efficient, have fewer parts to break and require less maintenance. CO2 happens not to be a problem, but massive EV adoption has to do with another sort of green, especially in the poorer countries. We feel fine either way.