Europe must regain the lead in clean automotive innovation

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

With smart policies that guide a decarbonisation of the auto sector, European carmakers will create additional jobs, writes Andrey Kovatchev. [NISSAN MOTOR CO., LTD. / Flickr]

The EU must adopt policies that put European manufacturers on the right track to compete with the global shift to low carbon transport, writes Andrey Kovatchev.

Andrey Kovatchev is a Bulgarian Member of the European Parliament. He is vice-chair of the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) Group.

For decades in the 20th Century, when the world looked for the highest performing and most efficient automobiles, they looked to Europe. Europe’s auto industry has built cars that are driven and desired all over the world.

Here in Europe, the industry has been a backbone of our industrial economy and employs more than 12 million European workers—more than 5% of Europe’s total workforce.

However, due to the rapid transformation in the world of mobility Europe risks losing ground—and jobs—to Asian and North American competitors.

We must not lag behind global competition, and so we must set strong policies that put European manufacturers on the right track to compete with the global shift to low carbon transport. The “EU Battery Alliance” initiative recently launched by the European Commission is a step in the right direction.

The policies and standards that we set today will point the direction for our car companies, giving them time to develop the appropriate technologies and systems to power the next generation of clean vehicles.

With smart policies that guide a decarbonisation of the auto sector, European carmakers will create additional jobs. If our cars deliver their share of CO2 reductions to meet Europe’s climate goals, that will boost the EU’s GDP.

Europe would benefit greatly by importing less oil. The EU currently imports 89% of its crude oil, the vast majority of which is used for personal transportation. Europe is highly dependent on crude imports from Russia, which delivers more than 30% of all crude imported into the EU. Another 20% comes from the Middle East (lead by Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Iran) and 16.5% from Africa (mostly from Nigeria, Algeria, and Libya).

Why should we send our Euros overseas in order to power vehicles that could be fueled by domestically produced energy?

There are plenty of other benefits—besides economic competitiveness and the geopolitics of energy independence—that will be unlocked by clean mobility. Public health is chief among them. Many of Europe’s cities suffer from dangerous levels of air pollution.

Electric vehicles also have the potential to save consumers money. Though early models have been expensive, the new generation of EVs are more widely affordable and will become even more so in the future. After you factor in the fuel savings (it’s typically far cheaper to recharge a battery from the electric grid than to fill a tank with diesel or petrol) and the reduced maintenance costs (EVs require far less service), this can mean real savings for the consumer. In order to reap the full benefits of transport decarbonisation, the transition to cleaner vehicles needs to go hand in hand with the use of cheaper renewable energy technologies.

Transport is currently responsible for roughly a quarter of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. So it stands that if Europe wants to fulfill its commitments under the Paris Agreement, we must decarbonise personal transport.

For this transition to be successful, and for our auto industry to stay on the forefront of innovation, companies must act now to invest in the technologies and designs that will power the auto fleets of the future. Policymakers should act now to give our car companies the firm long term guidance they need to make these investments. The March European Council is an opportune moment to send these clear policy signals—to set a firm long-term decarbonisation path. European carmakers can take the lead in the clean transportation race, and it’s our responsibility to help them chart the course.

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