Peugeot chief calls for Brussels to legislate on electric cars

Barroso and his electric car.

This article is part of our special report Electric Vehicles.

SPECIAL REPORT / The head of PSA Peugeot Citroën’s electric vehicles and mobility projects has called for the European Commission to legislate common tax and regulatory measures for electric cars across the continent.

“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.

Montebourg’s measures

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.

His measures, which followed news that PSA Peugeot Citroën was on the brink of axing 8,000 jobs due to recession, included:

  • 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. 

Unions enthusiastic

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.”

Passenger cars alone are responsible for around 12% of total EU emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas.

In 2007, the EU proposed legislation setting emission performance standards for new cars, which was adopted in 2009 by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers. Today's EU targets ensure that average emissions from new passenger cars do not exceed 130 grams of CO2 per km (g/km) by 2015.

A White Paper on Transport, presented by the Commission in February 2011, flagged measures to raise the €1.8 trillion which the EU says is needed for infrastructure investment in the next 20 years.

Proposals published earlier this year have set a further targets of 95 grams for new passenger cars by 2020, and 147 g/km for vans. By the end of 2014, new targets could be announced for 2025 and 2030.

  • By end of 2012: European Commission to publish clean transport communication
  • 2013: Review of 2020 target expected to wrap up
  • 31 Dec. 2014: EU expected to complete review of targets for 2020 and 2025
  • 1 Jan. 2015: 130 grams of CO2 per km target to be enforced across Europe
  • 2016: US to introduce 35 mpg standard for all new passenger cars
  • 2020: 95 grams of CO2 per km target expected to enter force across Europe
  • 2025: European Commission could impose another milestone on the road to decarbonsiation by 2050
  • 2025: US to introduce 54.5 mpg standard for all new passenger cars
  • 2030: European Commission could impose another milestone on the road to decarbonsiation by 2050

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