Photo credits: Ziga Plahutar

Electrification has simply substituted dieselisation, without any change in the business model or in the EU regulatory framework, reveals an alarming ETUI report. The ‘Fit for 55’ revision of the CO2 regulation for new cars and vans will not only keep reinforcing the trend towards heavier and more powerful vehicles but it will also drastically reduce the environmental benefits of electrification. Furthermore, it will also make Battery Electric Vehicles (BEV) less affordable for households, particularly in southern and central and eastern Europe.

‘The “Fit for 55” proposal is a lucid recognition of the failures of the CO2 regulatory packages of the last 30 years.

While there is no moral justification for the behaviour of the European automotive industry (including the foreign brands operating in Europe), it is also important to stress how this reprehensible outcome is the logical consequence of the institutionalisation by the European Union of the industry’s upmarket drift,’ said the author, Tommaso Pardi, director of Gerpisa, ENS Paris-Sarclay, CNRS. The European Commission has pushed the European automotive sector towards heavier, faster and more expensive cars precisely at a time when the imperative of reducing CO2 emissions should have required lighter, less powerful and more affordable cars. ‘Regulatory upmarket drift has compromised the achievements of fast-track electrification and the most radical transformation of the industry,’ continued Pardi. It also lies at the origin of the Dieselgate scandal.

For instance, between 2001 and 2015, the average European car gained 10 per cent in mass and 26 per cent in engine power – structurally equivalent to an increase of 21 per cent in CO2 emissions. During the same period, the automotive industry was supposed to reduce CO2 emissions by 20 per cent, from 169 gr/km to 135 gr/km. The extra 21 per cent in emissions generated by upmarket drift meant that what was really demanded in this period was a reduction of 41 per cent.

Tesla: the wrong model to follow by European car manufacturers

The conventional narrative tends to justify over-dimensioned and over-powered cars for everyday usage because, historically, people have bought them as multipurpose vehicles whose dimensions and properties reflected the most extreme usages (i.e. the few times when the whole family takes the motorway to go on holiday!). In contrast, BEVs were first conceived for everyday urban and peri-urban usage, where they would be both efficient (using less energy and requiring relatively small batteries) and more affordable: the weight of a car is the most important factor in determining its range while the size of the battery is the most important factor in determining its price. But upmarket drift – in contradiction with the objectives of the green transition – has continued: the average BEV in Europe has gained almost 600 kg in the last 10 years. Yet, for most of the time (some 98 per cent of trips), this over-dimensioned and over-powered car transports only 1.3 people on average, travelling less than 50 km a day at less than 60 km per hour.

Danger for EU industry: competition from China

Upmarket drift has increased the weight of BEVs (they are 600 kg heavier) and their price (10 000 euros more expensive) by a much higher proportion than conventional cars. They cannot currently be sold in Europe without generous state subsidies. In contrast, Chinese mini-cars are already cheaper to buy than equivalent petrol cars and are the best selling BEVs in China, without subsidy. If European generalist car manufacturers move away from the entry-level market, what will take their place will be the Chinese generalist car manufacturers.

To avoid such a scenario, and the highly disruptive consequences of accelerated upmarket drift in electrification, the report suggests two relatively simple amendments to the CO2 regulation in the ‘Fit for 55’ package:

  1. as also requested by the NGO Transport & Environment, weight-based CO2 standards should be phased out as soon as possible; 
  2. energy efficiency should be introduced as a key parameter for evaluating the actual contribution of electric vehicles to the reduction of CO2 emissions and for calculating the average CO2 emissions of new car sales. 

Read the full report by Tommaso Pardi here.