EU’s clean car plans don’t go far enough, say critics

Lack of interim targets could make electric vehicles more expensive

The EU has outlined its plans to decarbonise the car industry in Europe and the European Parliament has copper-fastened a commitment to end all internal combustion vehicle sales across the continent by 2035.

Car makers will have to trim the CO2 emissions of their fleets by 20 per cent (compared with 2021 levels), rising to 50 per cent by 2030. By 2035 car makers will have to hit 100 per cent.

Critics of the EU’s plans say the new rules don’t go far enough. According to environmental think tank Transport & Environment (T&E) the lack of both an interim 2027 target, and a tougher 2030 target, means that electric cars will take longer to come down in price.

Alex Keynes, clean vehicles manager at T&E said: "The EU clean car rules are driving down the costs of the electric vehicles [EV] that we need to decarbonise cars and meet our climate targets. But the EV boom will falter for the next 10 years unless lawmakers step in with an interim target in 2027 and a more ambitious goal in 2030. Without it, Europe may not sell enough zero-emissions cars to meet its own 2030 goals as well as those of many EU countries."

The BUEC, the European Union’s consumer watchdog, gave the plans a cautious welcome but said that they were “good, not great”.

Monique Goyens, director general at BEUC, said that stricter legislation would produce higher EV sales, which would trickle down to second-hand markets, bringing electric motoring within the financial reach of more drivers. "Electric driving can drastically reduce driving costs, which is even more important in times of stratospheric fuel costs. Especially second- and third-hand owners can save money by going electric, as they bear less of the car's depreciation and benefit from low maintenance and running costs," she said.

“The faster these cars arrive on the second-hand market, the faster consumers will save money. Targets to reduce CO2 emissions stimulate the automotive industry to bring electric cars to showrooms, creating this much-needed second-hand market,” said Goyens.

Battery vehicles

The BUEC echoed T&E’s call for an interim 2027 target, saying it would give car makers continuous incentives to bring electric cars to market.

According to T&E one environmental victory was scored, however. Plans to include a loophole in legislation to allow for “e-fuels” – synthetic fuels made by removing carbon from the air and mixing it with hydrogen, creating a theoretically carbon-neutral petrol – were rejected.

“E-fuels have been touted by the fossil fuel industry as a way to prolong the life of the internal combustion engine beyond decarbonisation deadlines. But tests show burning synthetic fuels will still pump toxic NOx emissions into the air, while running a car on e-fuel is far more expensive compared to an electric vehicle. Producing e-fuels is also much less efficient than powering a battery electric car,” said T&E’s Keynes.

“Battery electric vehicles offer drivers the cleanest, most efficient and affordable way to decarbonise, while synthetic fuels in cars would provide a new lease of life for old polluting engines. The parliament needs to keep the door closed to what would be a costly, inefficient diversion from the EU’s race to net zero.”

As part of the proposals, van-makers would be required to reduce the average emissions of new vehicles by 15 per cent in 2025 and 50 per cent in 2030, the MEPs said. All new vans in 2035 would need to be zero emissions, they said. Today cars account for 13 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU and vans 2 per cent.

There remains a month to get the current proposals amended; the European Parliament will vote in early June on adopting the targets into law. That will be followed by protracted negotiations with individual governments regarding implementation at the national level.