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Is Europe ready for an all-electric future?

EV sales have now surpassed diesel cars in Europe. Tanya Sinclair explores the implications for the market moving forward

Last December saw the sale of electric vehicles (EVs) surpass the sale of diesel cars in Europe for the very first time. This rapid growth of the sector and positive change in consumer choice is a major milestone in the move towards greener transportation, which is needed in order to meet climate change targets

Around 176,000 battery EVs were sold in Western Europe—an all-time record high and a 6% increase on December 2020 levels – while European car makers sold 160,000 diesel cars, the Financial Times reported. Across 18 markets in Europe, more than 20% of vehicles sold were electric, whilst diesel car sales slumped to less than 19% of totals. To put this in perspective, in the US, EVs will make up just 4% of total sales for the year.

A leading role

A long standing aspect in building demand for EVs in Europe has been successive governments across the continent creating consistent packages of significant incentives and infrastructure to support the rollout of vehicles and charging infrastructure. In the US, equivalent federal government support for EVs, combined with cheap gasoline prices—something that many European countries have not had in decades—has impacted the rate of  adoption. The US is taking action to follow successful European incentives, however. The Biden Administration  is moving towards funding infrastructure, as well as passing laws for more provisions for zero-emission vehicles.

Audi A6 e-tron concept
The production version of the Audi A6 e-tron is expected to arrive on the market soon

The European Union has also been pioneering in steadily tightening emissions requirements placed on vehicle manufacturers. New passenger cars sold in Europe have to emit no more than 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre; by 2025 this will fall by another 15%, and from there decrease again for a total 37.5% by 2030. This means many vehicle manufacturers have no other choice than to  offset the impact of selling more-polluting models by building  vehicles that emit no CO2 at all. By comparison, the average US passenger vehicle emits about 404 grams of CO2 per mile, or 251 grams of CO2 per kilometre.

These ambitious targets have had a secondary effect for European electrification. They have coerced Europe’s powerful OEMs into producing more models of EVs at a larger scale. Whilst Tesla may still be considered the leader in the sector, the Audi A6 e-tron, BMW i4, VW ID.5 and countless more models on their way in 2022 may soon sway this.

The influence of the Dieselgate can also not be ignored. It is due to this scandal that many of the key EVs currently sweeping Europe were initially planned and put into action.

In part because of Dieselgate, Volkswagen has sold worldwide 452,9000 battery-electric vehicles, going up 96% on 2020 levels. In Western Europe, EVs accounted for 10.5% of the group’s total deliveries. This growth, twinned with impending 2030 internal combustion engine (ICE) phaseouts in a growing number of European countries, and the influence of EV-only market innovators like Tesla  is significant and will have a further impact on OEMs’ electrification strategies. Whilst these developments have had significant impact in the US, the less stringent emissions targets there and the European home of those involved reduced it.

An all-electric future?

With an increased investment in EVs comes the need for an increased investment in its supporting infrastructure, to ensure the uptake of EVs is set up for success. Quality, reliable charging infrastructure is vital for Europe to achieve continued widespread EV uptake, and it is necessary to get this infrastructure in place ahead of demand to remove perceptions of a lack of availability of that infrastructure, which affects  consumer confidence and their propensity to make their next vehicle an EV.

However,  it is vital that this is done in the right way. It is not just about the numbers of chargers or needing a large concentration of charging stations. The right speed, location, ease of use and incentives all need to be carefully considered. Governments and organisations that set broad targets for numbers of chargers may find that they—and drivers—will end up with chargers of the wrong speed in the wrong location, of little use to EV drivers.

The influence of the Dieselgate can also not be ignored. It is due to this scandal that many of the key EVs currently sweeping Europe were initially planned and put into action

This is why more still needs to be done in regards to cross industry and cross continent collaboration to make charging stations and drivers’ charging data easier to access for drivers and deliver a seamless charging experience that is as easy if not easier than a gasoline fuelling experience. The answer to this is a fully interoperable ‘roamable’ network where any card—membership or contactless—can access any charger. EV charging must effortlessly fit into consumers’ everyday lives in order to achieve mass adoption. And today’s consumers expect a secure, smooth and reliable user experience in every walk of life, and charging should be no different. ChargePoint has been pioneering in delivering the technology and roaming agreements which make the overall charging network easier to access for drivers, irrespective of their chosen means of access.

Of course, increasing the number of chargers is also important and this is happening at a huge pace, matched by ever-increasing investment in the sector, allowing it to scale. However, whilst increased investment in on-street electric car charging is important, for the expansion of the network to take a real step forward, governments across Europe need to continue to ensure companies in the business of delivering and operating charging infrastructure have the freedom to operate on a level playing field and the ability to become sustainable and profitable.

This entails measures such as overcoming the prohibitive costs of grid connections for rural charging sites and freedom to set pricing for charging competitively. With these in place the charging sector is well positioned to support the EV revolution and facilitate the decarbonisation of road transport.

About the author: Tanya Sinclair is Policy Director UK & Ireland at ChargePoint


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