June 19, 2024

European election results cast doubt on 2035 petrol car ban due to rise in populist support

Populist and far-right parties have gained significant support in the recent European Parliament elections, as per the provisional results released on 10 June 2024.

The surge in political power could potentially lead to a reevaluation of the 2035 target for phasing out the sale of internal combustion engine cars, despite the automotive industry’s ongoing shift towards electric vehicles.

Back in 2022, European Union member states agreed that starting from January 1, 2035, only new cars with no tailpipe CO2 emissions could be sold within the bloc. This decision aimed to phase out petrol and diesel cars from showrooms, limiting sales to battery electric or hydrogen-powered vehicles.

Nevertheless, scrapping the 2035 deadline has become a significant goal for Europe’s right-wing parties. The European car industry, a key employer and leader in traditional cars, is facing challenges in keeping up with Chinese companies in the electric vehicle market, especially in the production of affordable models.

The European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) parliamentary group, which includes parties like Italy’s Brothers of Italy and Spain’s Vox, are against the transition to electric vehicles. Their election manifesto states, “We believe that the internal combustion engine, a symbol of European creativity and ingenuity, can remain commercially viable by embracing cutting-edge technology and investing in groundbreaking research on alternative low-emission fuels.”

Another right-wing group, the Identity and Democracy group, criticizes electric vehicles for their high costs and sees the impending ban as a discriminatory measure. Meanwhile, the center-right European People’s Party (EPP), the current majority in the European Parliament, is divided on the issue.

German parties within the EPP, such as the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), advocate for removing the 2035 deadline to leverage advanced German internal combustion engine technology. However, this stance was not included in the EPP manifesto, as outgoing European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who led the EU “Green Deal” negotiations, heads the party.

Diane Strauss from the NGO Transport & Environment told the AFP news service, “It would be surprising if the commission that put into place the Green Deal backtracked on it, but there are risks to its implementation.”

Despite the significant progress made by the automotive industry in transitioning to electric vehicles, with fully electric models now accounting for about 13% of the market, industry leaders express concerns about the timeline.

Renault CEO Luca de Meo, also the head of the European car lobby group ACEA, suggested that a delay would be beneficial. “I hope the ban will come into force a bit later because I think we won’t be able to do it without damaging all of the European auto industry and value chain,” he said.

Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis, noted that the pace of the transition to electric vehicles heavily depends on political outcomes. “The shift to electric vehicles would accelerate if ‘dogmatic progressives’ win office but would slow down if ‘populists’ win the elections,” he said.

Transport & Environment’s Strauss emphasized the importance of factors such as the deployment of charging stations and price reductions, possibly through subsidized leasing programs, for the success of the 2035 deadline. “A parliament strongly against electromobility could hinder the implementation of all the necessary factors for the success of the effort,” she said, citing the potential reduction of subsidies as an example.

A review of the progress towards electrification is scheduled for 2026. While this review does not imply another vote on the 2035 deadline, it could reveal delays and strengthen arguments for alternatives like synthetic fuels. Although synthetic fuels are currently energy-intensive and costly to produce, automakers like Porsche, Stellantis, and Renault are exploring their use in existing engines.

However, critics argue that achieving full carbon neutrality with e-fuels is challenging and that they are less efficient than battery electric vehicles.

Sue Robinson, Chief Executive of the National Franchised Dealers Association (NFDA), which represents car and commercial retailers across the UK, provided comments on the 2024 European Parliament election results:

“As the results of the 2024 European Parliament election continue to emerge and subsequent developments unfold, NFDA will monitor the strategies and changes affecting the automotive sector. We will work closely with our European counterparts to understand how any changes will impact their businesses.

“Recently, I attended a meeting of the Alliance of European Car Dealers and Repairers (AECDR) in Rome, where members and dealers approved a memorandum to promote ecological transition.

“NFDA will continue to keep members and consumers informed about ongoing developments in Europe.”

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