EU needs clean vehicle procurement rules to boost e-mobility in cities

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

While patting ourselves on the back for having roughly 1,600 e-buses on the road in Europe today, the Chinese city of Shenzhen completely electrified its fleet of 16,000 buses in 2018, writes Folker Franz. [Shutterstock]

Many European countries and cities have implemented measures to promote e-mobility. But to create scale in Europe, a constellation of disconnected initiatives is not enough to drive the needed change and action must be taken at a European level, writes Folker Franz.

Folker Franz is Head of Government Relations EU at ABB, a Swiss-Swedish multinational. He wrote this op-ed on behalf of the Platform for Electromobility, a network which brings together NGOs, industry associations, local and regional authorities, manufacturers of electric buses, cars, lorries, ships and charging infrastructure providers.

In October 2018, Environment and Transport ministers signed the “Graz declaration” on clean transport, marking “the beginning of a new era” in which all parties would “work towards a green deal for a new mobility in Europe”. But are they dragging their feet on one of the most important EU dossiers to boost clean mobility in European cities?

The window of opportunity for getting a deal on the Clean Vehicles Directive (CVD) is closing while the need for such a deal has never been so high: air pollution is responsible for 400,000 premature deaths every year, and greenhouse gas emissions in the transport sector are still on the rise.

The future of the European e-mobility industry is at stake. Postponing the transition to electric vehicles would only help international competitors become more dominant. For example, while patting ourselves on the back for having roughly 1,600 e-buses on the road in Europe today, the Chinese city of Shenzhen completely electrified its fleet of 16,000 buses in 2018. Overall, China operates close to 400,000 electric buses, and exports them across many markets.

European cities slow to adopt electric buses

Fully electric buses account for only 9% of urban bus sales in Europe, according to research by Transport and Environment (T&E), a green campaign group. High upfront costs are the biggest barrier to their deployment on a mass scale.

The renewal of public fleets brings huge numbers of new vehicles onto European streets each year – from buses to maintenance vehicles, from social services transport to office car pools. Currently, the large majority of these new vehicles are petrol or diesel driven – vehicles that will remain on our roads for the next 5-10 years, contributing further to CO2 emissions, air and noise pollution.

The Platform for Electro-mobility – a network of NGOs, European industry associations, local and regional authorities,  manufacturers of electric buses, cars, lorries, ships and charging infrastructure providers – believes the time to act is now. In light of the recent 1.5° report of the UNFCC and Commissioner Cañete’s call to make the EU climate neutral by 2050, business-as-usual is not an option anymore.

For city-dwellers to breathe cleaner air and the European industry to remain competitive, a clear strategy is needed. France and Poland have already adopted binding decarbonisation targets for their public fleets of vehicles, capital cities such as Madrid, London or Brussels have set up low-emission zones, Deutsche Post has deployed the largest fleet of electric vehicles in Germany, Copenhagen will only procure electric buses starting from this year, among many other initiatives.

But to create scale in Europe, a constellation of disconnected initiatives is not enough to drive the needed change and action must be taken at a European level.

This is the purpose of the Clean Vehicles Directive. It would mandate public authorities to procure a minimum share of clean and zero-emissions vehicles by 2025 and by 2030. The pace of change and the targets would be linked to national GDP. Since they would apply at Member State level, these targets could be fine-tuned by national policy-makers to accommodate local needs and specificities.

The effect of these measures would be a game-changer for buses: 75% of new bus registrations stem from public bodies. Targets would give manufacturers the confidence to ramp up production, therefore decreasing upfront purchase costs. Based on our recent analysis, the European industry is certainly ready to deliver.

The latest Council text of 17 December illustrates that the proposals of the Commission and the Parliament are closely aligned and provide a solid basis for rapidly reaching a deal between member states. An agreement exists to keep the technology-based definition of clean vehicles, and to set an additional “sub-target” for zero-emission vehicles.

In light of these converging views, the Clean Vehicles Directive is well in reach for policy-makers before the end of this political cycle. It would be an important sign that the Graz declaration is more than a piece of paper. It is now up to the Romanian presidency and the Council to deliver on these expectations.

Truck emissions rules get green light from EU capitals, tough talks loom

EU environment ministers agreed on heavy-duty vehicle CO2 emission rules on Thursday (20 December), teeing up difficult talks with the European Parliament in January.

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