New cars powered by diesel and gasoline may have only 14 years left in the European Union, according to new emissions targets under discussion in Brussels.
Three EU officials told POLITICO that the European Commission is debating setting a zero-emissions target for vehicles sold beyond 2035 — a huge shift from the current trajectory of industry standards that would mark a revolution for Europe’s automakers.
“That would not only mean the end of the internal combustion engine, but also the end of plug-in hybrids,” said Hildegard Müller, head of Germany’s VDA car lobby.
The new rules would come under a revamp of the bloc’s car emissions reduction standards, part of the EU’s Green Deal plan to hit net-zero CO2 emissions by mid-century. The Commission is mulling upping the bloc’s 2030 target to mandate a 60 percent reduction in car emissions, compared to the current goal of a 37.5 percent cut. By 2035, that would rise to 100 percent, the three officials said.
If the proposal makes it into the final text — due to be published on July 14 — it would then be considered by EU countries and the European Parliament. It’s likely to be heavily opposed by both industry lobbies and countries with economies that are heavily reliant on traditional carmaking.
While many carmakers are starting to produce zero-emission electric cars, only Volvo and Volkswagen have strategies in place to transition to electric by the end of the decade, according to a new study from green mobility NGO Transport & Environment. VW’s German rivals Daimler and BMW are among the least prepared to dump the internal combustion engine (ICE).
The industry said the Commission’s plans would force a rapid switch to battery cars, without considering alternatives.
“If you need a new car in 2036, there won’t be a choice,” said Sigrid de Vries, who runs the EU’s components industry lobby CLEPA. “The car will have an electric engine, regardless of whether it fits the need or not, is affordable or not, or if there is green energy and the infrastructure to charge it or not.”
Carmakers want the EU and member countries to first dramatically increase spending on charging points to make electric cars more attractive.
“It might be too much too fast, as we cannot see how the charging infrastructure grows accordingly,” one German auto manager said of the possible Commission plan.
But with rising concern about climate change, the Commission is being pushed to take radical action.
“By further increasing emissions norms you make it so attractive for manufacturers to switch,” the Commission’s Green Deal chief Frans Timmermans said this week. “The consequence of that is that ICEs will hardly be built anymore.”
Under the Green Deal, transport emissions are supposed to fall by 90 percent by 2050. In a sign of how priorities are changing, the 37.5 percent target was agreed only in 2018 after a long and bitter fight.
Cars have a 15-year cycle to clear older, dirtier models off the road, which means 2035 is the deadline to end sales to meet the 2050 target.
Despite the alarm from carmakers, there is still no final Commission proposal on new emissions reduction targets and the figures are open to change ahead of the July 14 publication date.
Maroš Šefčovič, the Commission vice president in charge of the bloc’s battery alliance, said in an interview Thursday that Commission officials were still discussing the final figures.
But he added that sales of battery-powered cars are rising fast, so “something that seems super ambitious for 2025, 2030 and beyond might not be that ambitious once we see what is happening on the market.”
It’s clear that there is growing pressure to get rid of cars powered by fossil fuels.
During last weekend’s G7 summit in Cornwall, the British hosts pushed for leaders to set a date to end production of gasoline and diesel cars in the 2030s. EU officials wouldn’t confirm whether Brussels backed the target during the meeting too.
The final G7 communiqué only mentioned a commitment “to accelerate the transition away from new sales of diesel and petrol cars.”
Countries are already starting to move. The U.K. plans to end the sale of combustion engine cars by 2030 and to include plug-in hybrids by 2035. France has set a 2040 phaseout date, but there is pressure to move that up.
Many cities are also preparing to ban conventional cars from their streets.
Karl Mathiesen contributed reporting.
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