Auto industry eager to move towards zero-emission mobility but infrastructure and incentives lacking

One of my first official duties as the new Director General of ACEA was signing a joint statement with Hydrogen Europe and the IRU earlier this month. In this call to action, we urge the next European Commission and recently-elected Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to create the right framework to support the deployment of hydrogen infrastructure.

Message from ACEA's Director General – October 2019

Indeed, as I emphasised during this signing ceremony at the Hydrogen for Climate Action conference organised by the European Commission, fuel-cell electric vehicles (which run on hydrogen) hold strong potential to help Europe make the transition to zero-emission mobility, just like other alternatively-powered vehicles that our members are offering in increasing numbers.

This built on a similar statement co-signed by ACEA, calling on the European institutions to facilitate a rapid roll-out of smart charging infrastructure for electrically-chargeable vehicles, which was launched at our Summit at the beginning of September. And as ACEA we are committed to launch more of these joint initiatives for other alternatives, such as natural gas and biofuels, in the near future.

For all of these decarbonisation solutions to reach their potential, the necessary refuelling and charging infrastructure must be widely available across the entire European Union. Unfortunately, ACEA’s new report ‘Making the Transition to Zero-Emission Mobility’ shows that this infrastructure is severely lacking today. Likewise, the report also demonstrates that incentive schemes for low-carbon vehicles are much needed to keep mobility affordable for all Europeans.

This situation is worrisome. Because, as you probably know, earlier this year the European Parliament and Council adopted a new regulation setting reduction targets of -15% and -37.5% for the tailpipe CO2 emissions of new cars for the years 2025 and 2030 respectively. These are extremely stringent targets. And as media have been reporting widely for the past few months, many car manufacturers are already struggling to meet the target of 95g CO2/km for the year 2021.

Clearly, if the current and future CO2 targets are to be achieved, sales of alternatively-powered passenger cars – including electrically-chargeable, hybrid, fuel-cell and natural gas-powered vehicles – will have to pick up massively. However, market demand for these vehicles, although growing, remains low in Europe, as consumers are still not fully convinced that they are the best choice for their mobility needs.

In 2023, the Commission will review the 2025 and 2030 CO2 targets, reporting back to MEPs and the Council on the progress made. Amongst other things, this ‘mid-term review’ will take stock of the roll-out of charging and refuelling infrastructure for alternatively-powered vehicles, their market uptake, as well as CO2 reductions from the car fleet.

In the run-up to the mid-term review, we will be publishing the ‘Making the Transition to Zero-Emission Mobility’ report on an annual basis. Our aim is to monitor the availability of infrastructure and purchase incentives for consumers in the years to come, tracking progress on two key ‘enabling factors’ for the transition to zero-emission mobility: convenience and affordability.

Because if they are to be widely adopted by customers, alternatively-powered vehicles have to become a more convenient and stress-free option for Europeans. This means that everyone must have the possibility to refuel or recharge their car easily, no matter where they live or where they want to travel to.

Let’s first take a look at electrically-chargeable vehicles (ECVs), which include full battery electric vehicles and plug-in hybrids – both of which require infrastructure that connects them to the electricity grid. The good news is that Europe’s charging infrastructure has gone up by over 300% since 2014, but of course we were starting from an extremely low base a few years ago.

The reality here is that in total there are less than 144,000 charging points available in Europe today, a figure which still falls far short of what is required. Indeed, according to conservative estimates by the European Commission, at least 2.8 million charging points will be needed by 2030. That means there should be roughly a 20-fold increase within the next decade. So, there is much work to be done in the coming years!

However, it is not only the overall lack of infrastructure that poses a problem. It is also the huge imbalance in the geographical distribution of these charging points across the European Union. Four countries covering slightly more than one quarter of the EU’s total surface area – the Netherlands, Germany, France and the UK – account for more than three-quarters of all ECV charging points!

In addition, we can see a clear correlation between the market uptake of electrically-chargeable cars and the number of charging points per 100 kilometre of road. Almost all EU member states with less than 1 charging point per 100 km of road consequently have an ECV market share of under 1%.

But we are not only talking about electric cars, there are similar issues facing (potential) owners of fuel-cell and natural gas vehicles. Last year, there were just 47 hydrogen filling stations available across 11 EU countries, over 25% of which were located in Germany. And while there were some 3,400 natural gas filling points at the end of 2018, almost two-thirds of those were concentrated in two countries alone: Italy and Germany.

The situation for commercial vehicles is even more complicated. The limited infrastructure that is available for passenger cars at the moment simply is not suitable for the specific requirements of trucks and buses. When we look at trucks, for example, the shocking fact is that there is not one single public charging point or filling station available for long-haul trucks that run on electricity or hydrogen. No wonder that only 0.04% of all trucks on our roads are electrically-chargeable ones for the time being, with another 0.04% being hybrid electric trucks – bringing the total to less than 0.1% of the fleet.

I think my message is very clear. All 28 member states must urgently step up their efforts to ensure an EU-wide network of charging and refuelling infrastructure. Without this, consumers and transport operators will never be convinced to make the switch to alternatively-powered vehicles on a large scale.

As we make the transition to zero-emission mobility, we should not forget that mobility is a fundamental right of all Europeans and that it needs to remain affordable for all layers of society. In other words, new rules and regulations should not have a negative impact on people’s freedom of mobility. At the same time, however, our 2019 progress report makes clear that the market uptake of electrically-chargeable vehicles is directly correlated to a country's standard of living, proving that affordability actually is a major barrier to consumers.

Indeed, the latest data shows that all countries with an ECV market share of less than 1% also have a GDP per capita below €29,000. This is the case for instance in Bulgaria, Greece and Lithuania, but also in major economies such as Italy and Spain. By contrast, an ECV share of above 3.5% only occurs in rich countries with a GDP of more than €42,000, like Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden.

Putting in place more meaningful and sustainable incentive schemes EU-wide is therefore crucial. Currently, only 12 EU countries offer bonus payments or premiums to buyers of electric vehicles. Moreover, these purchase incentives, and especially their monetary value, differ greatly from country to country.

I would like to conclude by reminding you that our industry is eager to move as fast as possible towards zero-emission mobility. There is no doubt that this is our future. Indeed, ACEA’s member companies are investing massively in low- and zero-emission technologies.

However, if the market is to follow, governments across the EU need to ramp up investments in charging and refuelling infrastructure, and to put in place appropriate incentives to stimulate sales of alternatively-powered vehicles in the long run. Because, ultimately, this transition is a joint responsibility of the industry, infrastructure operators, member states, the European Commission and MEPs – it cannot be seen as the sole responsibility of vehicle manufacturers.

Eric-Mark Huitema
Director General of ACEA