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European Commission’s sustainable mobility strategy far from reality, says ACEA

Tom Geggus | 10 Dec 2020

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Tom Geggus

Journalist

As a journalist for Autovista Group's Daily Brief, Tom covers a wide variety of stories from across the automotive industry. From sales figures to the development of technology, he wants to know what is driving the industry.

The European Commission has drawn back the curtain on its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, with an action plan of 82 initiatives that will direct transport policy in Europe. It sets out how the EU’s transportation network can achieve its green and digital transformation, resulting in a 90% cut in emissions within the next 30 years. These new initiatives will set the standard over the next four years, with additional industry targets set for 2030, 2035 and 2050.

While the automotive sector has recognised the need to boost the uptake of zero-emission vehicles, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) has warned that some of the Commission’s ambitions could be a stretch. It explains the industry already dedicates much of its yearly €60.9 billion research and development budget to decarbonisation, as electromobility and digitisation shape a cleaner future.

Sustainable milestones

By providing clear milestones, the European Commission hopes to keep the transport system’s journey towards a smart and sustainable future on track. This includes ensuring there are at least 30 million zero-emission cars in operation by 2030, as well as the large-scale deployment of automated mobility, and climate neutrality in 100 European cities.

By 2050, the Commission wants nearly all cars, vans, busses and new heavy goods vehicles to be zero emission. It also expects there to be a fully-operational, multimodal Trans-European Transport Network (TEN-T) for sustainable and smart transport with high-speed connectivity.

‘To reach our climate targets, emissions from the transport sector must get on a clear downward trend,’ said Frans Timmermans, executive vice-president for the European Green Deal. ‘Today’s strategy will shift the way people and goods move across Europe and make it easy to combine different modes of transport in a single journey. We’ve set ambitious targets for the entire transport system to ensure a sustainable, smart, and resilient return from the COVID-19 crisis.’

82 initiatives

To achieve these goals, the Commission’s strategy outlines 82 initiatives within 10 key areas for action. So, for transport to become more sustainable, practical measures will need to be taken. This includes boosting the uptake of zero-emission vehicles, which can be targeted by installing three million public charging points and 1,000 hydrogen filling stations by 2030. The strategy also outlines the need to make urban mobility healthy and sustainable, for instance, by doubling high-speed rail traffic and developing extra cycling infrastructure over the next decade.

In terms of smart innovations, the Commission wants to see more connected and automated mobility, like allowing freight to seamlessly switch between transport modes. The strategy also plans on boosting the use of data and artificial intelligence, which could include supporting the deployment of drones and unmanned aircraft.

Reality check

Taking note of the Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy, ACEA acknowledged the objective of boosting the uptake of zero-emission cars. However, it warned the ambition to have 30 million of them across European roads by 2030 could be unrealistic. ‘Unfortunately, this vision is far removed from today’s reality,’ cautioned ACEA director-general, Eric-Mark Huitema.

New research by the association points out that of the 243 million passenger cars on the road in Europe last year, less than 615,000 fell into the zero-emission category, making up less than 0.25% of the whole car fleet. ‘To meet the Commission’s objective, we would need to see an almost 50-fold increase in zero-emission cars in circulation on our roads in just 10 years,’ Huitema explained.

He went on to say that despite industry investment and a growing market share, not all the right conditions were in place yet to take such a massive leap, such as the availability of charging points. ‘The European Commission should match its level of ambition for rolling out infrastructure across the EU with its ambition for reducing CO2 emissions from vehicles. It is quite simple: the higher the climate targets become, the higher targets for charging points and refuelling stations should be. Unfortunately, we still see a mismatch between these two elements at EU level,’ he warned.

recent report by ACEA identifies the need for the deployment of 15 times more infrastructure over the next 11 years to meet the Commission’s target of three million public charging points, up from 200,000 last year. The association is therefore calling again for an urgent review of the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive, to push national governments to invest.

‘Experience has shown us that a voluntary approach to these infrastructure targets does not work,’ stated Huitema. ‘While some EU countries have been very active, others have done little or nothing. The AFID review really must include binding infrastructure targets for member states.’

Apart from infrastructure, ACEA also identified other necessary measures to encourage consumers to make the switch to zero-emission mobility. This included the need for more aggressive carbon pricing, the continuation of fleet renewal schemes, as well as the re-training of sector workers.

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