“I think the European Commission should design a series of measures which can promote the vision they have for a big growth of electric cars,” Ayoul Grouvel said in an exclusive interview with EurActiv.
“It could be authorisation for a new tax level, or a more general electric vehicle policy for Europe,” he added, noting that industry subsidies currently operated unevenly across the EU.
“I think there’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.
To play its part in limiting global warming to 2 degrees, the EU is committed to reducing carbon emissions by 80-95% on 1990 levels by 2050. In the transport sector, this means a 70% cut of greenhouse gas emissions, on 2008 figures.
Electric cars are the most cost-effective way of reducing long-term transport CO2 emissions and, if Europe’s fast-growing market continues to double every year, the vehicles will make up 3-4% of overall car sales by 2020, Grouvel said.
But as with innovations like mobile phones and iPads, it would take at least 10 years for customers to get used them. In the meantime, the price tag for research into battery technology was being clipped to internal combustion engine (ICE) cars in an unsustainable way, he said.
“If you want to let the market grow, we have to offset that - not infinitely but for a period of time,” he explained.
Speculation about an anti-dumping case being brought against South Korean car makers Hyunadi and Kia Motors in Brussels was "not the issue today," Grouvel said. The focus should be kept on public acceptance of electric cars.
Arnaud Montebourg, France's industry minister, recently announced a package of measures to help ailing French car manufacturers grab a hefty share of the budding electric car industry.
- Increasing cash incentives to buy electric cars from €5,000 to €7,000
- Doubling subsidies on hybrid cars, such as those made by PSA Peugeot Citroën to €4,000
- Levying fines on polluting vehicles
- Introducing a public procurement obligation to replace 25% of the government’s car fleet with electric vehicles
- A rapid expansion of electric charging stations across the country.
Grouvel said that the proposal ticked most of the car industry’s boxes and, following its announcement, Peugeot’s sales of hybrid cars – which mix battery and combustion engine technology – tripled in the month of August.
Montebourg’s package was “one of the most consistent efforts in Europe today”, and second only to Norway’s, Grouvel said. But Peugeot would still like to have seen a stronger commitment in it to zonal charging for cars emitting above 50 grams of CO2 per km (g/km) in urban areas.
Oil-producing Norway has legislated for electric vehicles to be able to use bus lanes, and enjoy free city centre parking and recharging facilities. A combination of these and Montebourg’s policies could form the basis for a Europe-wide regulation, Grouvel said.
“We have CO2 legislation and pollution legislation at the European level [so] if we want to develop electric vehicles on the European level, why isn’t there a [similar] policy there?” he asked.
In a reflection of the way that climate politics can sometimes cut across traditional social divisions, many car workers trades unions are as enthusiastic as their bosses about support for electric cars.
“We see an increase in jobs in the future automotive sector, mainly due to the increasing technology-mix to be produced and serviced and repaired,” said Wolf Jäcklein, a policy advisor to the IndustriALL global union federation, which claims to represent 50 million workers.
“We know that the ICE technology alone would result in a decrease in employment (for the same number of cars produced) in the coming decade,” he added.
Foundry jobs would decrease with electrification of the sector, but new electro-chemical positions would appear and high-voltage skills retraining for workers would be beneficial to them - and the industry - he said.
“Of course, we, trade unions, support the policies in favour of new technologies, and stand for investments into R&D to make this change happen,” Jäcklein told EurActiv.
“This is for the good of the automotive industry and its sustainable future.”