EU decision makers can supercharge the shift to electric vehicles

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The shift towards electric vehicles is a political one, not one driven by the industry or a desire to lower emissions. [Scharfsinn / Shutterstock.com]

Despite progress, barriers remain to electric vehicle (EV) uptake in eastern and southern Europe. But the right EU policies can speed up the electric mobility shift across the continent, benefiting consumers and the environment, argue Monique Goyens and Julia Poliscanova.

Monique Goyens is the director-general of BEUC, the European consumer organisation. Julia Poliscanova is senior director for clean vehicles at Transport and Environment, a clean mobility NGO.

As more manufacturers release electric cars at an increasingly rapid pace, battery development evolves, and charging infrastructure expands, the move to EVs in Europe is gathering momentum.

A recent investigation by EURACTIV suggests this development is challenging. But environmental and consumer groups argue that electric cars are an opportunity: EU rules for cleaner cars and better charging infrastructure can help overcome challenges so drivers across Europe can go electric.

​​A cleaner automotive market is on its way

Electric vehicles are sweeping through our streets, driven by rising popularity, technological innovation and new regulation.

As T&E and BEUC, we see many signs from countries across Europe that citizens are ready for this green transition.

Mobility is the second-largest area of expenditure for European households. For those who depend on a car for their daily travel, purchasing a vehicle is certainly an important financial decision. So just how ready is Europe for the shift to EV?

Until recently, the EV market was limited to a niche of early adopters, but tomorrow’s landscape will be very different as EVs enter a new phase near the mass market.

Although it has been producing diesel and petrol cars for over a century and only recently made serious investments in electric vehicles, the European car market is ready for this change.

The uptake of electric cars and vans in Europe increased significantly in 2020: electric car registrations increased from 3.5% to 11% of total new car registrations in just one year from 2019 to 2020 and are already reaching 16% in 2021 so far.

Together, the Volkswagen Group, PSA, Renault-Nissan and Daimler are expected to make up two-thirds of EV production in Europe by 2025.

So, why isn’t every car buyer across Europe thinking electric yet?

Electric cars need to be convenient, easy to charge and affordable, meaning they must be available in the second or third-hand market to allow more consumers to buy them.

The role of EU and national authorities is now to speed up the take-off via concrete policies that allow all Europeans who depend on a car to have access to and make easy use of electric vehicles.

For the electric revolution to occur, charging networks need to be available throughout the continent.

We urge decision-makers to use the ongoing revision of the charging infrastructure law (AFIR) to make charging EVs as easy as fuelling petrol cars.

If the law goes through, EU countries would be mandated to deploy enough public chargers to match the fast-rising sales of electric cars. This means that there could very well be a comprehensive public charging network for electric cars, vans and trucks to drive seamlessly across Europe from 2025.

At the same time, decision-makers should ensure that people can pay for charging by debit card while making prices transparent and clearly stated in price per kWh.

While public charging networks are vital, installing both in-home and work charging points also needs to be stepped up.

The role of ambitious EU clean car rules

Ambitious EU CO2 standards play a role, too, as they nudge carmakers to ramp up the supply of electric vehicles at a lower purchase price, creating a mass market for electric cars.

Electric cars are more expensive today because car makers still produce the minimum necessary for compliance, not pushing the real mass market.

There is nothing inherently expensive about EVs – they are mechanically simpler than thermal cars – the problem is volume and scale.

A more rapid roll-out will also mean that more consumers, who mostly buy used vehicles, will have quicker access to these vehicles, especially in countries with a lower purchasing power such as in Eastern or Southern Europe.

For instance, a rural citizen in Cyprus, driving 17,500 km per year and buying a second-hand EV can even expect a total cost of ownership 40% lower than a second-hand thermal car.

A medium-sized electric car bought today is already the most financially interesting solution over the car’s lifetime, recent research by BEUC and nine of its national member organisations found.

And by 2027, at the latest, electric cars will be cheaper to make in Europe than fossil-fuel vehicles, according to recent research by BloombergNEF.

Before EVs become price competitive at the moment of purchase, member states should support consumers through smart incentives and tax cuts (including disincentives to buy diesel and petrol cars).

Such incentives will spur the purchase of electric cars by first owners who, in turn, dictate the market for second and third-hand cars.

For the time being, only France and the Netherlands offer purchase incentives for second-hand electric cars – and thus make EVs available to a larger public.

For now, 73% of new electric cars are sold in five markets: Germany, France, Italy, Spain and the UK. But this should not eclipse another reality: the EV market is growing everywhere, and the annual EV growth in places like Slovakia, Romania, and Lithuania is higher than in the west of Europe.

With the right rules to curb CO2 emissions and to make electric car charging convenient, EU decision-makers can make zero-emission mobility an opportunity for Europeans to benefit the environment and their wallets.

We hope they keep this opportunity in mind as they decide on important automotive laws during the next months.

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