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Europe’s Electric Revolution Is Underway, But Doubters See Problems.

Europe’s Electric Revolution Is Underway, But Doubters See Problems.

“The ICE ban is insane, it will not contribute to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and will have a dramatic negative impact on the EU economy”

The European Union has decided that by 2035 the sale of new internal combustion engines (ICE) will be banned, and all new cars will be battery-electric, as the automotive industry plays its part in the battle for carbon neutrality by 2050.

That is one massive upheaval. Easy to say. It assumes more than 100 years of investment and development can be disappeared and replaced with a technology yet to be proven in the real world.  

There is one guaranteed aspect of the plan. All the political leaders who pushed through this radical upheaval will be safely in retirement by 2035. If the plan backfires, they won’t be around to answer the critics. Other aspects are less certain, not least because politicians, not engineers, have decreed the technology to be embraced is the battery electric vehicle (BEV). 

Some automotive leaders say selecting unproven technology wilfully wastes 100 years of development and assumes battery-electric will be just as capable. They say there is still much improvement to be gained from more refining of cleaner ICE power, with help from hybrids, and they can slash CO2 emissions just as quickly as a move to BEVs, at a fraction of the cost. 

Others say the drive to net zero carbon emissions assumes BEVs are carbon neutral, and that is far from the case. Some estimates reckon it would take about 16,000 miles of use for a BEV to match ICE technology’s production of CO2 because of the mining and manufacturing. Others, seeing that bigger batteries are being introduced to help BEVs match an ICE car’s performance, estimate that this could reach perhaps 65,000 miles or more before equality is reached. One thing is for sure; BEVs are “zero emissions” only on the road. 

Green lobbying organization Transport & Environment (T&E) wants an early end to ICE power, even to the extent of banning plug-in hybrids (PHEV) by 2035 as the EU proposes. This contrasts with the usually radical California Air Resources Board (CARB), which has conceded that in fairness to the less well-off living in distant rural areas, they should be allowed access to PHEVs.

ICE diehards
But European politicians who have driven these changes aren’t about to change their minds, as ICE diehards express their frustrations. In fact, any deviation has been in the opposite direction. British Prime Minister Boris Johnston brought forward compliance to 2030. Since his demise earlier this year, no political dissenters voice have emerged. 

And the promised electric revolution is well on its way. 

Schmidt Automotive Research says Western Europe’s BEV sales will hit 20% of the market in 2025, of overall sales estimated at 13.5 million, and accelerate on to 65% by 2030 of 14.2 million. That’s more than 9 million BEVs a year by 2030 compared with 1.5 million this year, and assuming just as many people drive cars in 2035 as they do now, that’s another maybe 5 million a year.

All the big automotive manufacturers led by Volkswagen have publicly embraced the call to switch to BEVs and put their money where their mouths are. Only Stellantis has shown a bit of public reluctance, with CEO Carlos Tavares worrying that the move will place huge burdens on the European automotive industry. 

(Stellantis was created by the merger of Peugeot and Fiat Chrysler, and includes brands like Citroen, Opel, Vauxhall, Jeep, Lancia, DS, Alfa Romeo and Maserati. It’s sales are the second biggest in Europe after Volkswagen.)

Tavares also believes there’s a chance that because the long-promised affordable electric car is further away today than ever, there is a risk that average wage earners will no longer be able to afford to buy cars, and will be forced to ride buses, trains, and bikes, thus guaranteeing a growing rump of European citizens with grievances against their governments.

Asking for trouble
Tavares says it’s asking for trouble to create a society where only the well-heeled can afford cars and SUVs. Cynics say that misses the point, which is to make sure those on average earnings are forced out of their sedans and SUVs. The climate emergency demands it.

Federico Millo, professor of automotive internal combustion engines at Politecnico di Torino, Italy, said the ICE ban won’t curb carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

“On the contrary, it could even increase CO2 emissions if we consider the whole production cycle of electric cars and their batteries. The ICE ban is insane, it will not contribute to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and will have a dramatic negative impact on the EU economy,” Millo said in an interview. 

“EVs are not zero emissions. Electricity which is used to recharge the batteries from the grid is not being produced from 100% renewable sources, and it’s quite unlikely it will be possible to have a grid fully-powered by solar and wind in 2035. This also misses a significant part of the picture because it doesn’t consider CO2 emissions related to vehicle fabrication and its final disposal. We need to consider all the aspects, using so-called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA),” Millo said.  

“The only way we can reduce our CO2 emissions from road vehicles is a change of paradigm in transportation, which could be possible in some urban areas and with new, younger generations, but not for all of Europe. Just changing the type of vehicle isn’t solving the problem. We need a different approach to personal mobility and this is already being done in some urban areas where the use of personal cars is discouraged. Replacing all ICE vehicles on EU roads with EVs will not be effective in reducing CO2 emissions,” Millo said.

This view isn’t shared by green campaigners like Brussels-based T&E, after the European Commission recently approved in principle a tightening of the rules through the so-called Euro 7 emission standards. T&E described the proposals as a missed opportunity and a gift to carmakers.

“They chose not to”
“Carmakers can afford to make cleaner cars with technology that is already available and affordable. They chose not to,” T&E said in a statement.

T&E said the Commission believed industry submissions that stricter rules would make cars unaffordable, threatened jobs and mass redundancies, and stricter standards would force the industry to divert investment from electric vehicles. A headline on another T&E statement summed up its view

“Return of the ‘big bad’ car industry as auto lobbyists water down pollution standards,” T&E said.

John Wormald, analyst with British automotive consultancy Autopolis,  said there are some important factors suggesting the electric revolution has big, maybe impossible, hurdles to jump.

“These impressive-looking forecasts assume people will buy something more expensive and less convenient. We’re looking at a capital cost at least one-third higher under the most optimistic assumptions. People will be forced to drive far fewer miles, and it takes 10 times longer to refuel. I think the whole thing is an enormous extra tax on mobility,” Wormald said. 

“Basic materials to build a traditional car are really remarkably low cost. There’s much iron and aluminium. Look at batteries and electric motors and the electronic controls for electric cars. There are much more expensive materials like lithium and cobalt, and I don’t see a huge new capacity for batteries,” Wormald said.

(VW recently said the battery can typically account for 40% of the cost of a new BEV).  

“(the drive to electric) is designed to get people out of their cars. If you increase the cost of motoring by 30 to 50% and price many out of the market, I can see the market dropping 50%,” Wormald said.

Politecnico di Torino’s Millo agrees that the ICE ban will decimate the European market, waste the valuable asset of ICE engineering and spur on the Chinese invasion.

Wasting a century of technological leadership 
“This will cause tremendous damage. We are throwing into the waste bin a century of technological leadership, and we are going to become totally dependent on China in terms of raw materials for EVs, and manufacturing of batteries. This will destroy hundreds of thousands of jobs in the EU, without providing any benefit from the environmental point of view,” Millo said.

Last month EU internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said Europe’s automakers should keep producing ICE engines so they can serve the rest of the world. Is this a sign the EU might be having second thoughts about the 2035 new ICE ban?

“I sincerely hope this could happen, but I’m doubtful. The damage done to the industry, in terms of collapse of investment in R&D, competences, and knowledge being dispersed is already enormous. (Manufacturers) have already gone “all in” on BEVs, and when public opinion will swing, when it realizes that people will no longer be able to afford personal mobility as they were used to, it will be too late, I’m afraid. We are destroying our auto industry in Europe. We are going to face a real disaster from the industrial and social point of view without any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions,” Millo said.


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