Fit for 55: a much-needed reality check for EU policy and decision makers to keep mobility accessible
Right before most of us took a well-deserved summer break, the European Commission launched its ‘Fit for 55’ climate proposal. In line with the Paris Agreement, the EU’s overall goal for some time now has been to reach climate neutrality by 2050 – an objective fully supported by all ACEA members.
Message from ACEA’s Director General – September 2021
Till recently, this meant that the EU was aiming for a society-wide CO2 reduction of 40% by 2030 compared to 1990 levels. Earlier this year, however, the Commission concluded that a more ambitious target would be needed: a 55% net reduction by 2030. The mammoth Fit for 55 package presented in July sets out a proposal for the legislative framework and actions that the Commission deems necessary to reach this new target.
It goes without saying that Fit for 55 will also have a massive impact on the automotive sector. The Commission now proposes, for instance, to further tighten the 2030 CO2 targets for cars and vans introduced just three years ago. For cars, the -37.5% target set in 2019 should become a 55% reduction (compared to 2021 levels) according to the Commission, and the new target for vans would then be -50%.
What is more, the Commission also wants to set a new target for 2035 mandating a 100% reduction of CO2 emissions from cars and vans. In practice, this -100% target would come down to an EU-wide ban on the internal combustion engine (ICE). As an industry, we believe that all powertrain options have a role to play in the transition to climate neutrality, so the European Union should focus on innovation instead of banning or prescribing certain technologies.
All powertrain options have a role to play in the transition to climate neutrality, so the European Union should focus on innovation instead of banning or prescribing certain technologies.
ACEA members now invest billions of euros per year in innovative and sustainable powertrain technologies because they are committed to bringing emissions down to zero. Nevertheless, the car CO2 target of -55% proposed for 2030 is very challenging. It is not the vehicle technology that worries me; I’m actually pretty confident that our members will play their part, making zero-emission vehicles available in all segments.
Now it is becoming very clear that large-scale consumer uptake of zero-emission vehicles will only happen if the proposed CO2 reductions are accompanied by equally ambitious targets for EU member states to build up the required charging points and hydrogen refuelling stations.
In that sense, the Fit for 55 proposal simply is not ambitious enough. Earlier estimates by the Commission’s own experts already found that a 50% CO2 reduction would require some 6 million public EV chargers by 2030, but when it presented the package in July the European Commission failed to commit to any absolute number at all. Instead, the Commission only provided an estimate that the proposal could potentially lead to 3.5 million charging points in 2030 – so that doesn’t bode well for the ‘equally ambitious’ infrastructure targets that we actually need.
The Commission’s own experts found that a 50% CO2 reduction would require 6 million EV chargers by 2030, but when it presented the package in July the European Commission failed to commit to any absolute number at all.
Unfortunately, this is not an isolated issue. It appears that many important aspects of the transition to zero-emission mobility are still being overlooked by policy and decision makers here in Brussels and the national capitals. That is why we at ACEA have been busy providing some much-needed reality checks in recent weeks and months.
For example, our data analysis revealed a completely unbalanced picture when it comes to the spread of charging stations for electric cars across the European Union.
A whopping 70% of all EU chargers are concentrated in just three countries today: the Netherlands (66,665), France (45,751) and Germany (44,538). Combined these countries make up only 23% of the region’s total surface area, while the other 30% of charging infrastructure is scattered throughout the remaining 77% of the EU.
What worries me most, is that this two-track infrastructure roll-out is developing along the dividing lines between richer EU member states in Western Europe and countries with a lower gross domestic product (GDP) per capita in Eastern, Central and Southern Europe. Big EU countries with a sizeable land mass but a lower GDP, such as Poland (0.8% of all charging points) and Spain (3.3%), seem to be left behind.
Talking about those strong variations in national income, recent findings also show that electric cars sales are directly linked to a country’s standard of living. This means that the affordability of electrically-chargeable vehicles (ECV) remains a major issue for many Europeans. While battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars accounted for more than 10% of total EU sales last year, there are still 10 member states that had an ECV share of less than 3% in 2020.
In fact, these countries with a share below 3% also have an average GDP per capita of under €17,000. This is the case for EU member states in Central and Eastern Europe for instance, but also Greece. The other way around, an ECV share of more than 15% is only found in richer countries in Northern Europe with a GDP of over €46,000.
In most EU countries, it is actually hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) that dominate the market for alternatively-powered cars, with 15 countries having an HEV share of over 10%. For many people, vehicles that combine an internal combustion engine (ICE) with a battery-powered electric motor are a perfect fit.
In most EU countries, it is actually hybrid electric vehicles (HEV) that dominate the market for alternatively-powered cars, with 15 countries having an HEV share of over 10%.
Especially in countries where charging points are lacking, or battery electric cars are still too expensive for the local population right now, HEVs play an important role in the transition to climate neutrality. But what will happen to these popular cars if the Commission is planning to effectively ban the ICE after 2035?
Because if citizens of Greece, Lithuania, Poland and Romania, for example, still have to travel 200km or more to find a charger, we just cannot expect them to buy a fully battery electric car – regardless of what Brussels wants them to do.
Indeed, ACEA recently discovered that there is a serious lack of charging points for electric cars when we look at the road networks of EU member states. Ten countries do not even have a single charging point for every 100 kilometre of main roads. And it shouldn’t come as a surprise that those countries (except for Hungary) also have an electric car market share of less than 3%. At the end of the day, there are only four member states that have more than 10 chargers for each 100km.
Looking at my home country of the Netherlands for example (which has the most chargers, some 47.5 per 100km), the contrast with a vast country like Poland – which is eight times bigger, but only has one charging point for every 250km of road – is huge. This means we need to see massive progress on infrastructure deployment in a very short time span, and especially in those EU countries that are lagging behind right now.
The problem is that the European Commission’s proposal for an Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR), as part of Fit for 55, is not up to the job! We welcome the idea of binding targets for charging and refuelling points in each of the 27 EU member states, but the AFIR proposal is completely out of sync with the Commission’s own ambitious CO2 targets.
The big danger here is that the progress made in a few, rich Western European countries is distracting policy makers from the poor state of the infrastructure network in other EU countries, and from the fact that for many Europeans the affordability of individual mobility is increasingly under pressure.
The big danger here is that the progress made in a few, rich Western European countries is distracting policy makers from the poor state of the infrastructure network in other EU countries.
While one would assume that the EU’s primary objective is to ensure that no countries or citizens are left behind in the transition to zero-emission mobility, what we see developing now is in fact a widening divide between Central-Eastern and Western Europe, as well as a strong North-South split running across the continent.
If this is not properly addressed by Members of the European Parliament and the national governments during the upcoming Fit for 55 negotiations, the new EU climate package runs the risk of causing major social disruption.
A badly managed transition will severely undermine public support for climate action and the EU in general. Not only among the millions of Europeans working in the auto sector, for whom a Just Transition plan is still missing to this day, but also all of those in society that risk losing access to affordable mobility.
Director General of ACEA