Eric-Mark Huitema

This year will be a pivotal one for the EU auto industry in the transition to carbon neutrality. Looking at the months ahead, discussions about CO2 targets for cars and vans are back on the agenda of EU policy makers again. Indeed, the CO2 reduction targets that were set for 2025 and 2030 only two years ago are already subject to a review.

Europe’s auto industry continues to invest heavily to deliver carbon-neutral mobility by 2050, but that is only one piece of a more complex puzzle. Nevertheless, I often get the feeling that people in Brussels and beyond think that our industry has to go it alone – but the opposite is true.

As we move towards climate neutrality, ACEA members will further ramp up the production of zero-emission vehicles, but these in turn require a dedicated network of charging points and hydrogen refuelling stations right across the EU. Consequently, this means that if existing CO2 targets are to become even more ambitious, they will only be achievable in practice if they are accompanied by ambitious infrastructure deployment objectives for member states.

Oliver Zipse, who is ACEA’s President and CEO of BMW, put it very well recently: “European automakers are driving the transition to e-mobility and are literally outperforming each other in launching new electric vehicles. But the success of this huge effort is seriously threatened by the delayed installation of charging infrastructure in the EU.”

So, in order to reach the EU climate goals, we need to see the rapid rollout of a dense infrastructure network that covers the entire European Union. Europe needs to send a clear signal to consumers that the number of public chargers will increase in line with the market uptake of electrically-chargeable cars in the future. The European Commission should do this by setting unambiguous infrastructure deployment targets for each of the 27 EU car markets, and these should be binding and properly enforced by Europe’s executive arm.

And that is exactly the reason why we recently joined forces with Transport and Environment (T&E) and the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) to call on Frans Timmermans, the European Commission’s Executive Vice-President for the Green Deal, as well as his colleagues Adina Vălean, Thierry Breton and Kadri Simson, to set objectives that specify the exact number of public chargers and hydrogen stations that each member state is required to deploy.

Concretely, the upcoming revision of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive (AFID) must be used by the Commission to force member states to deploy one million public charging points across the EU by 2024, and to triple that number to three million by 2029. Likewise, some one thousand public hydrogen stations should be made available for cars and vans before 2030.

ACEA President Zipse explained the importance of this: “The EU Commission quickly needs to take action and set binding targets for the ramp-up of charging infrastructure in the member states. Otherwise, even the current reduction targets in fighting climate change are at risk. In addition to public charging infrastructure, we also need to put a stronger focus on workplace and home charging.”

What is of crucial importance here is that the AFID revision not only has to be ambitious, but that it also has to be linked to the review of the CO2 targets for cars and vans. Because regardless of the tens of billions of euros that ACEA’s members are investing in low- and zero-emission vehicles in record time, consumers need to see enough infrastructure right in front of their eyes before they will make the switch en masse.

The latest figures do indeed show that Europe’s car makers are delivering on their part of the deal. Looking at full-year results for 2020, we see that hybrid electric vehicles made up 11.9% of total car sales across the EU last year, up from 5.7% in 2019. Electrically-chargeable cars accounted for 10.5% of all new registrations in the European Union in 2020, while they only made up 3% of car sales the year before. In fact, for the first time ever, more than one million units of both hybrid electric (1,182,792) and electrically-chargeable (1,045,831) passenger cars were sold in the EU last year.

That is great news of course, also proving our industry’s commitment to meeting the EU climate goals. However, the big problem right now is that investment in charging and refuelling infrastructure is failing to keep pace with the auto industry’s output. The positive trend on the demand side can only be sustained if member states strongly boost infrastructure deployment.

Last year already, an ACEA report showed that sales of electrically-chargeable cars had increased by 110% during the preceding years, while the number of public chargers only grew by 58%. And this divide only seems to be further widening now that low- and zero-emission vehicles continue to expand their share of the market.

That is why the upcoming review of the CO2 Regulation for cars and vans must go hand-in-hand with an equally – if not more – ambitious revision of the AFID. As stressed in our recent joint letter with BEUC and T&E, we need clear political commitment from the Commission that it will ensure that those three million chargers and one thousand hydrogen stations are in place by 2030.

Those targets simply need to be set in stone. What is important to note is that these are the minimum numbers that Europe will need to reach the current CO2 targets for cars and vans, so regardless of the outcome of the upcoming review.

This means that if the Commission wants to go beyond the current CO2 targets for cars and vans it can only do this by proposing a more ambitious AFID proposal. That is exactly why the AFID revision must also be concluded before the review of the CO2 targets. After all, the actual number of charging points and refuelling stations that member states commit to deploy determines what realistic CO2 targets would be.

In addition, strong and binding enforcement measures should be introduced by the Commission to ensure that the AFID targets are met in practice by national governments. With the implementation of the current AFID now years underway, it has become clear that various governments have failed to deliver on their promises. To solve this problem, there needs to be a direct link between the CO2 targets set for vehicle manufacturers and the actual level of deployment of charging and refuelling infrastructure on the ground.

That is also why I believe that the Commission should use the revision to turn the current Directive into an ambitious Regulation. For those unfamiliar with EU terminology, a Directive is a legislative act that sets out a goal that EU countries must achieve, but leaving it up to national governments to decide how they want to do that – which can take years as we have seen with AFID.

Regulations, on the other hand, are binding legislative acts that must be applied by the letter across the entire EU. Hence, I strongly believe that a Regulation would be the best way forward, as it allows for the swift implementation of binding national infrastructure targets. Europe does not have any time to lose in the fight against climate change, so we should not wait years again to see whether a Directive this time actually delivers the required infrastructure or not.

That is also the message I want to convey to Frans Timmermans on behalf of the auto industry, which is ready to play its part in the European Green Deal. All of ACEA’s 15 members are equally committed to make the transformation to carbon neutrality by the middle of the century, but the Commission and member states should also take their responsibility by showing that they – after years of some countries dragging their feet – are ready to deliver on infrastructure.

Eric-Mark Huitema
Director General of ACEA


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