As hard as it is to believe, the electric car was invented (in Europe) almost 200 years ago. It even became quite popular early into the 20th century but it quickly lost its primacy to the combustion engine, which was able to drive longer distances using the newly discovered ‘black gold’ of the time.
It took us many decades to understand that that petrol was more black than golden; that it had tragic ramifications over our air quality and CO2 emissions.
Today transport is responsible for over a fifth of Europe’s CO2 emissions and is the main source of pollution in our cities. It is therefore the cause of diseases and premature deaths of millions around the world every year.
That is about to change. We are witnessing increasing pressure from citizens, civil society, and decision-makers at all levels (with cities paving the way ) who are rightfully demanding cleaner, smarter, and future-proof means of transport, matching the energy transition of the 21st century.
The EU is a major player in this transition and we are playing our role for ensuring this transition is changing gears.
Last year, the Commission tabled a proposal for new CO2 emission performance standards for cars and vans, and later for heavy-duty trucks.
In 2022, we foresee extending this approach to buses. We also presented an Action Plan for alternative fuels infrastructure brings an additional EUR 800 million in innovative financing.
This is a large amount but the purpose is not to finance ‘anything’. Our infrastructure needs to be “future-proof”, ready for large-scale uptake of low- and zero- emission vehicles.
Finally, we are therefore working closely with Member States on implementation of their national policy frameworks for alternative fuels. Yet, there we must increase our ambition if we are to meet the challenge.
For example, currently, there are 130,000 publicly accessible recharging stations across the EU. This is enough for the time being for the 700,000 vehicles on the road but it will not be enough in 1-2 years’ time when we expect accelerated take-up.
We will look at this in our 2019 evaluation of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive.
This is the big moment of Europe’s automobile industry to take off the gloves and embrace the challenge.
Let us all recognise that the potential is huge!
According to the International Energy Agency (IEA), the global number of electric vehicles should triple over the next two years. The IEA expects sales to increase by 24% each year on average up to 2030. That is 125 million new electric cars!
That is why clean transport is not one option out of many. It is the only option.
The only question is who will be the one to provide the best, most effective, most sustainable and competitive solutions. The question is whether Europe would produce the solution or will we have to buy it from others.
Last year, the absolute majority of new electric cars sold were in China. More than 90% of all electric buses run in China. Few other countries in the world have developed such market shares.
Ensuring a leading competitive position in this fast evolving market will not be easy. We will now have to accelerate in order to catch up and overtake the current market leaders of clean cars (namely China and California).
Yet, while the other market players have been advancing fast, they haven’t advanced very far. They are still bound by one critical component: the capacity of the battery.
The major scientific breakthrough in batteries is therefore still ahead of us. The ‘prize’ for making it will be gigantic: the battery market will soon reach an annual turnover of €250 billion in Europe alone.
This is a perfect example of where Europe can plug in. That is why we created a European Battery Alliance in 2017.
In just over one year of its existence, the Alliance has already shown its creativity and agility, creating new synergies across Europe and across the battery value chain.
This will allow Europe’s electro-mobility industry to go the extra mile, or many extra miles. Our initiative is aimed at producing ‘green batteries’, which will be sustainable all across their value chain, or ideally value cycle…
The race for clean mobility is going to be a difficult one, requiring many stakeholders to work together and reinforce each other towards our common goal.
Although the mandate of the current Commission is about to end, I have no doubt the EU will carry on its commitments; creating incentives, policy, regulation and support for this cause.
I do not underestimate the challenge, which is still required from our entire industry in order to create this transition but
I am convinced that given what is at stake, we simply cannot afford to miss this race.
If Europe was the first to produce electric cars and if Europe has been leading the combustion cars industry for a century, it is time we now do both: produce the best clean cars in the world!