European backsliding on electric vehicles is bad for the climate. Subscribe to Electric Vehicle News Bitesize Podcast for FREE to hear more!
Attempts to put a brake on the transition to electrification and allow ‘climate neutral’ fuels after 2035 ignore the science, what’s needed is policy clarity now.
Worldwide, the planes, trains and automobiles we use to get around pumped around 7.7 gigatonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2021, one-fifth of all anthropogenic emissions. Some three-quarters of transport emissions came from just one source, the exhausts of road vehicles.
Converting road transport to run on green energy would be a huge step towards achieving net zero emissions by mid-century, a change needed if we are to limit climate change to ‘safe’ levels. This is why policymakers have been nudging car makers to accelerate efforts to bring an end to the manufacture of vehicles fitted with an internal combustion engine. It’s a no-brainer. In the European Union, at least, it seemed that the two sides were strapped in, ready to reach that destination by 2035.
However, the past few weeks have seen the European Commission embroiled in a row with Germany, Italy and some other EU members over implementation of the 2035 deadline. This has been resolved, but only through a concession to Germany’s powerful automotive industry. New cars with internal combustion engines can continue to be sold after 2035, provided the engines use carbon-neutral fuels instead of diesel, petrol or compressed and liquefied gases. These are climate-damaging moves from a region that has so far led the world in policies for decarbonizing transport.
The problem lies in the phrase ‘carbon-neutral fuels’. These fuels rely either on inputs such as ‘green’ hydrogen, which is made by splitting water using renewable electricity, or on feedstocks such as biomass. The technologies used to make these fuels are inefficient, expensive and untested at scale. Moreover, claims of climate neutrality, based on the idea that the CO2 emitted by their combustion was absorbed relatively recently from the biosphere, or that CO2 produced during their manufacture was prevented from entering the atmosphere, are questionable.
The capacity to make green hydrogen is severely limited, and any expansion should be used to power sectors such as heavy industry, for which viable decarbonization alternatives are not yet available. Meanwhile, the use of biomass creates incentives to harvest wood and divert agricultural land to grow energy crops, regardless of the consequences for land as a carbon sink or for biodiversity.
It’s clear why some in the automotive industry want to keep the internal combustion engine alive. The idea is attractive to short-sighted policymakers, too, because it reduces the need to plan the roll out of charging infrastructure, to worry about grid capacity, and to teach people the skills to build and maintain different technologies. The research community must be equally clear in underlining why this is a false economy. There is only one proven viable, scalable and technologically ripe scheme for decarbonizing personal road transport. That is electrification.
Not all car makers want to delay. Many understand that the transition to electric vehicles will take time, and want to get on with transforming their businesses. They want policy certainty and continuity from governments to allow them to get down to business. Last year’s COP27 climate conference in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, saw the launch of the Accelerating to Zero Coalition to drive the global transition to new electric cars and vans by 2035 in “leading markets”, meaning high-income countries, and globally by 2040. Its more than 200 signatories include 14 car manufacturers, among them household names such as Ford, General Motors, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo Cars, and the governments of more than 40 countries.
But the absentees are also notable. They include some of the world’s most prominent motor manufacturers, Toyota, Volkswagen, Honda, Hyundai and Kia. Also absent are the governments of some of the biggest car-producing countries, China, Japan, South Korea and Germany.
If the electric-vehicle transition is further delayed, there are likely to be cascading effects elsewhere that will ultimately put a brake on global decarbonization. The demand for personal powered mobility is increasing in low- and middle-income countries. In Asia alone, cars are projected to account for more than 40% of trips taken in 2050, up from 28% in 2015. On the basis of current trends, there will be three billion cars and vans on the road globally in 2050, up from one billion now, another reason to accelerate the transition to electric vehicles worldwide.
For the decarbonization of road transport to occur, the world will need what the Global Fuel Economy Initiative, a partnership on fuel economy and efficiency, called a “radical policy framework”. That means the removal of fossil-fuel subsidies and the mobilization of both public and private investment for the development of electric vehicles and their attendant charging infrastructure. It means tying the development of that infrastructure to renewable-energy-generation systems, while ensuring that supply chains are sustainable and providing recycling facilities for battery materials. And it means an international agreement must be reached on standards, so that the introduction of cleaner vehicles in one part of the world doesn’t mean old bangers being shipped off to pollute the environment elsewhere.
All of this is doable. But the growing global demand for personal mobility means a truly green transport transition will happen only by addressing another factor. Technological innovation will take us only so far: behavioural change is also needed. Alongside a cogent, evidence-based strategy to develop electric vehicles and displace fossil fuels, we must plan and redesign urban environments around the world to encourage active transport, walking and cycling, rather than driving. That surely is the best route to a cleaner, healthier world.
Meanwhile in other news, Toyota’s new president vows to step up electric vehicle push.
Toyota’s new president Koji Sato has promised what he called an aggressive shift on “electrification,” while acknowledging criticism that Japan’s top automaker has fallen behind in actual volumes of electric vehicles sold compared to its rivals.
“We like to see that as people cheering Toyota on,” to play catchup in electric cars, Sato told reporters Friday at Toyota Motor Corp.’s Tokyo headquarters.
“If we look at in practical terms of the situation today, we have done a great deal in reducing carbon emissions,” he said, defending the automaker’s record on other petrol-sipping technologies.
Toyota is a leader in hybrids, which have both a petrol engine and electric motor, and Sato stressed that different markets have varying powertrain needs, with emerging markets being slower to adopt pure electric vehicles.
But he said pure electric vehicles allow for more software functions because of their connectivity and other features, stressing that Toyota’s electric vehicles would highlight “intelligence,” such as services and entertainment.
Sato, who has managed the Lexus luxury division, declined to outline specifics of such features. But he stressed that future Electric Vehicle models would be truly “Toyota-like,” pointing to a high standard for quality and not just affordable pricing.
The company’s entire production system must be revamped to make quality EVs befitting the Toyota or Lexus nameplates, he said. Toyota prides itself on its “just in time” production system, which runs like clockwork and is praised by manufacturing experts around the world.
Toyota now offers the bZ4X electric compact crossover, packed with what’s called the e-TNGA platform. That stands for “Toyota New Global Architecture,” also used in its Prius and Lexus models.. The electric platform was developed in collaboration with Subaru, a Toyota group company.
The bZ4X is available in Japan, the U.S., and parts of Europe, such as Germany and Britain, as well as China and Thailand.
Toyota also recently announced a new electric car to be sold in China, called bZ3. It will use technology developed with Chinese Electric Vehicle manufacturer BYD Co. in a collaboration that also includes state-owned Tianjin FAW and other partners.
Toyota and BYD set up a joint venture company three years ago to jointly research and develop battery electric vehicles.
At the Shanghai auto show this week, Toyota showed a couple of “bZ series” EVs in the works for the Chinese market, a sleek crossover and a model called Flex Space Concept, billed as offering a home-like environment in a car for families.
But overall, the world’s Electric Vehicle sector has so far been dominated by the likes of Tesla, Japanese rival Nissan Motor Co., which makes the Leaf, and BYD. So Toyota has some catching up to do.
Sato recently replaced Akio Toyoda, a grandson of the company’s founder who had served as chief executive since 2009, presiding over some difficult years. They included the global financial crisis, as well as a massive recall scandal in the U.S., over “unintended acceleration,” in 2010.
Sato kept referring to Toyoda as “Chairman Akio,” his new title. Although they both love cars, he said his approach was different as a president with an engineering background. Toyoda has a business background, although he is also a race car driver.
Toyota’s new management lineup still needs its shareholders’ approval at the general meeting, held every year in June. Sato’s term officially began April 1.
And finally, Autel Energy studies reasons for Electric Vehicle buyer hesitation.
With electric vehicle ownership interest on the rise, many consumers still have concerns before making an Electric Vehicle purchase. While cost has been a significant factor in realistically owning a sustainable form of transportation, limited understanding and knowledge of the current charging infrastructure impedes the continued adoption of electric vehicles. Findings from a survey conducted by Dynata, Hill and Knowlton and presented by Autel Energy reveal detailed results about buyer hesitation.
The quantitative survey, conducted between March 31 and April 1, 2023, used an online data collection methodology of 525 adults to understand the adoption, mindset and concerns about Electric Vehicle batteries, with a specific focus on charging. The survey found that 54% of adults are interested in owning an electric vehicle in the future, and 68% of families with children at home say they are interested in vehicle ownership.
However, significant concerns have to do with Electric Vehicle charging confidence rather than the quality or substantial impact Electric Vehicles can make. The results of the survey found that:
38% said their understanding of charging is little to none at all, and 27% of current owners said their understanding is limited;
51% of those not interested in purchasing an Electric Vehicle said they had little knowledge of Electric Vehicle charging;
49% of non-owners have range anxiety or the fear of running out of charge while driving; 51% of Electric Vehicle owners also have range anxiety;
46% of non-owners do not know where charging stations are located, while 42% do not know the number of times it takes to charge an Electric Vehicle, contrasted with 44% and 40% of Electric Vehicle owners with the same fears;
40% of non-owners are afraid of charging stations not working and are concerned that weather would affect stations up time; meanwhile, 47% of Electric Vehicle owners have the same concerns;
38% of non-Electric Vehicle owners and 40% of owners are unaware or concerned with Electric Vehicle charging costs;
33% of non-Electric Vehicle owners and 49% of owners are unaware if charging stations work for all types of Electric Vehicles; 61% of Electric Vehicle owners believe all charging stations work for all Electric Vehicle brands.
“One of the primary takeaways from the survey is the understanding from both Electric Vehicle owners and non-owners that an improved charging process and network would significantly enhance the electric vehicle experience, more so than affordable Electric Vehicle pricing,” said John Thomas, chief operating officer, Autel Energy. “The survey concluded that 46% of non-Electric Vehicle owners and 54% of owners would be heavily motivated to make an Electric Vehicle purchase in the future if there was more knowledge about and significant improvement in the charging framework over the next few years.”
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