Last week, the European Union proposed banning the sale of all new internal combustion vehicles starting in 2035. With several member nations proposing restrictions in the coming years, EU leadership feels it can accelerate the timeline to force electric vehicles as the de facto mode of transportation. The European Commission has suggested making it illegal to sell gas or diesel-powered vehicles in 14 years, with aims to reduce CO2 emissions produced by automobiles by 55 percent (vs 2021 levels) by 2030.
But countries that still produce vehicles have expressed reservations about the scheduling. France absolutely agrees with mandating restrictions that would reduce greenhouse emissions. Though President Emmanuel Macron’s office has been pressing that hybrid vehicles would be able to do much of the heavy lifting and fears that an outright ban of internal combustion could hamstring the industry if conducted too early. Germany, which manufacturers more vehicles than other EU member nations, is of a similar mind.
“I believe that all car and truck manufacturers are aware that stricter specifications are coming. But they have to be technically feasible,” German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer explained to Deutsche Presse-Agentur (DPA).
German manufacturers have been signaling a transition toward EVs louder than almost anyone. But the regional regulatory bodies have expressed concerns about accelerating the timeframe. This has been particularly true of Scheuer, who remains concerned about what’s actually achievable. He’s proposed phasing out fossil fuel combustion by 2035, only if synthetic fuels can be perfected to a point that wouldn’t force ICEs off the road.
There are concerns that synthetic fuels aren’t sufficiently energy-efficient to produce with confidence and will ultimately result in more pollution than battery-driven automobiles. But this is wholly dependent upon how much both technologies progress and how the infrastructure is set up. For example, Germany’s aversion to nuclear power resulted in it building a slew of coal-fired powerplants to offset renewable sources that ultimately reduced its air quality. Sourcing electricity from a coal-dependent area isn’t better for the environment, especially if the area is required to build thousands of EV charging points to make it possible. By contrast, synthetic fuels can use our existing fueling infrastructure. But they suffer from some of the pitfalls shared with hydrogen power (heavy efficiency losses during production) and are still dependent upon access to fossil fuels.
Unfortunately, studies tend to support whatever industry commissioned them in the first place. Though there’s sufficient evidence to suggest that the greenest solutions tend to be the ones that are the most localized. Manufacturing (or disposing of) batteries isn’t exactly good for the environment, nor is shipping them around the world. And the same goes for fuel refinement. If you’re drilling for crude, only to send it halfway around the world to be refined and shipped back, then you’re needlessly broadening your carbon footprint. But it’s a fairly normal practice in developed countries.
These issues are often more about perception and finances than actually deciding what’s possible or which technologies/practices will offer the lowest total amount of pollution. This frequently is embodied by the blind faith environmental activists seem to place on EVs and manufacturers’ willingness to court them while keeping internal combustion vehicles perpetually on deck.
“This is the sort of ambition we’ve been waiting to see from the EU, where it’s been lacking in recent years,” Helen Clarkson, chief executive of the Climate Group, a non-profit group that collaborates openly with business and government in a complicated, ethical slurry, told Reuters.
“The science tells us we need to halve emissions by 2030, so for road transport it’s simple — get rid of the internal combustion engine.”
In truth, the science is overwhelmingly complicated and European Union has been one of the biggest proponents of swapping to EVs, even if some of its other environmental actions have backfired horribly in the past.
While we already mentioned Germany’s air quality, the best example has to be Europe’s former love affair with diesel. In the early 1990s, the continent was operating under the assumption that diesel-powered vehicles tended to be more economical than their gasoline-fueled counterparts and thereby must be less taxing on the environment. Governments prioritized the fuel accordingly and diesel-powered passenger vehicles became the norm. Two decades later and Europe is still reeling from that sooty mistake, though diesel technology improved quite a bit thanks to the unbridled support it received. Electrification could be in for a similar future if not enacted responsibly — ditto for synthetic fuels, hydrogen, or any other miracle solution to our perpetual hunger for the planet’s resources.
What we’re relatively certain of is that introducing alternative energy solutions has required billions of dollars and will cost billions more if Europe is serious about adhering to these targets. La Plateforme Automobile (PFA), France’s primary industry lobby, estimates another 17.5 billion euros ($20.8 billion USD) will need to be spent in the middle of the next decade to continue developing the necessary infrastructure to facilitate the desired changes. Germany is looking at probably thrice that amount, with some analysts suggesting the European lobbying metrics are far too conservative. The European Commission is already operating under the assumption that simply building the necessary charging infrastructure will require over $100 billion by 2040.
Electrification will also result in widespread job losses, with PFA suggesting France would remove 100,000 automotive-related positions (over half the industry’s current strength) by 2035. Germany’s substantially larger automotive workforce would probably lose several times that figure.
Despite the industry habitually voicing a strong commitment toward electrification in press materials, lobbying groups tend to oppose governments prohibiting the sale of any type of vehicle. Most are telling the EU that a mixed approach is best, with automakers continuing to pursue all technologies until the market decides a clear winner. This continued to be true after the commission issued its latest proposal, reminding us that what’s being said isn’t always indicative of what’s being done. That doesn’t necessarily mean the mixed approach is wrong. But it serves as a reminder that it’s often easier to run with a solution that feels or sounds good than spending the extra time to figure out what’s actually going to be best — whether that pertains to consumer needs, financial reports, or what’s going into our atmosphere.
Then again, your author is stupidly operating under the assumption that these are serious conversations when there’s overwhelming evidence that manufacturers and government actors simply make arbitrary environmental or technological promises that are ultimately forgotten and reintroduced five years later as if they’re wholly novel concepts.
[Image: JL IMAGES/Shutterstock]