The end of fossil-fuel cars

The end of fossil-fuel cars

The mobility world was hit, a few weeks ago, by two big announcements. On July 5th, Volvo announced that by 2019, all their new models would be hybrid or electric. The next day, Nicolas Hulot, France’s minister for the environmental and inclusive transition, declared, during the presentation of his Climate Plan, that France would ban the sale of diesel and fuel cars by 2040. Are internal combustion engines (ICEs) really on the brink of extinction? Let’s dig deeper.

Who’s doing what ?

Volvo is not the only car manufacturer committing to going electric. Fiat has decided that half of its cars will be electric or hybrid by 2022, BMW will soon build an electric version of their famous Mini, and PSA has committed to 80% of the 34 new global vehicles scheduled for introduction by 2023 to be available in all-electric and plug-in hybrid versions.

France has been looking especially environmentally-friendly lately. In 2016, the Paris Agreement, aiming to keep global warming well beneath 2°C was signed by a historical 175 parties, in May 2017, Emmanuel Macron, who has promised to devote 15 billion euros to the ecological transition, was elected, and now the country has declared the sale of all fuel and diesel cars banned by 2040. This measure is part of the government’s Climate Plan which aims to make France lead the green economy by using the Paris Agreement as an opportunity for creativity, innovation and job creation.

“There is no climate plan B. Because there is no planet B” Emmanuel Macron

On July 26th, Britain followed France’s example by banning the sale of new gas and diesel cars in 2040 as part of its new clean air strategy. The country has become increasingly concerned with the level of air pollution, particularly in big cities like London, where it is estimated to cause between 23,000 and 40,000 deaths each year.

And let’s not forget to mention the best student, Norway, which has the highest penetration of electric cars in the world. The scandinavian country set a target of reaching zero new fossil-fuel cars sold as from 2025, which seems doable as about 29 % of all cars sold last year were electric or plug-in hybrid.

 Percentage of cars sold that were electric in 2016Percentage of cars sold that were plug-in hybrid in 2016End of sales of ICEsQuote
France1,35 %0,37 %2040“France’s carmakers have enough ideas in the drawer to nurture and bring about this promise”, Nicolas Hulot, France’s minister for the environmental and inclusive transition
Britain0,42 %0,92 %2040“We can’t carry on with diesel and petrol cars. There is no alternative to embracing new technology”, Michael Gove, U.K environment secretary
Norway15,6 %13,3 %2025“The goal is to make zero/low-emission cars so attractive that people choose them”, MP Ola Elvestuen of the Norwegian Liberal Party

They are not the only ones ousting ICEs. Most countries planning to do so are European, but India, China, and some American states, are following in their footsteps.

What’s the deal ?

On paper, this seems like environmental legislation, but in practice, it might be a political measure to make sure carmakers don’t get left behind.

There is no question that the future is electric. Why?

  • pollution has become a major issue. In 2015 the nitrogen oxides released by diesel caused 38,000 premature deaths according to World Health Organisation.
  • legislation is getting tougher each year. In Europe, new cars will have to emit less than 96g of CO2 per km (that’s a consumption of 3.7L/100km) by 2020, compared to 130g today (5.2L/100km).
  • EV prices continue to drop with models like Nissan Leaf 2 and Tesla 3 competing directly with their combustion competitors.
  • EVs require less maintenance and last longer. In August, a Tesla Model S hit 300 000 miles and reached barely $11,000 of maintenance and fuel costs. Had this been a Mercedes S class, it would have cost its owner $86,000. Also, the Tesla is ready for another 900,000 miles over the next 6 years under its current warranty, whereas a gas car with 300,000 miles would be near the end of its useful lifespan.

According to the ING Bank, battery-powered vehicles will account for 100% of registrations in 2035 across Europe. Or as Stanford University-economist Tony Seba would say: “Banning sales of diesel and gasoline vehicles by 2040 is a bit like banning sales of horses for road transportation by 2040: there won’t be any to ban”.

Politicians implementing bans understand this, and know that if local OEMs miss the boat, buyers will turn to foreign brands to get what they want.

In the case of France, president Macron might not have to be too worried. François Roudier, communication director of the French carmaker committee, highlighted that “French brands already devote one third of their R&D budget to developing hybrid, hydrogen and electric motors.” According to the European Environment Agency, Peugeot, Citroën and Renault ranked first, second and third on a 2016 list of large car manufacturers with the lowest carbon emissions. To learn more about Renault’s future, come listen to Christophe Chevreton, director of the New Mobility projects at Renault, who will be giving a keynote speech at Autonomy on the 20th of October in Paris.

What does this mean for urbanites ?

This is great news for urbanites who are finally going to be able to enjoy all the wonderful food, culture and interactions cities have to offer without the many downsides caused by fossil-fuel vehicles (noise, smog, health problems).

On the other hand, people working in the petrochemical sector are worried, as the automotive industry is their main client. In France, this concerns 600 000 people. The end of ICEs means many of them will lose their current job, but maybe not that they’ll be out of a job. The EV market is growing fast and it’s going to need hands on deck, for starters in the charging infrastructure field. The 30 millions charging points needed to power the French EVs riding around in 2050 won’t build themselves!

The advent of electric is also going to change our relationship to cars. We will no longer care about other people using them as they won’t have a clutch to burn or an engine to overheat and will be able to do massive mileage. This will cause the owners to put EVs on shared peer-to-peer networks, thus reducing the number of vehicles on the streets.

What are the challenges ?

The road to a 100% electric future is not  a smooth one, even for Europe which is trying to lead by example. Since the 1990s, European governments have been encouraging the purchase of diesel cars as an alternative to traditional gasoline-powered vehicles thanks to tax breaks and other incentives. They were thought to use fuel more efficiently, and therefore to emit less carbon dioxide. In reality, they don’t reduce CO2 emissions that much, and release of extremely harmful nitrogen oxides.

The major challenge is to help motorists make the switch. Some have the mindset and wallet to buy an electric vehicle today, but others are going to need several steps to get there.

Authorities can start by encouraging drivers with the most polluting vehicles to retrofit them. The most common retrofit technologies are diesel particulate filters (DPFs), which are designed to remove particulate matter or soot from the exhaust gas, and diesel oxidation catalysts (DOCs), which turn carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons into carbon dioxide and water vapour through oxidation by oxygen. These devices are installed in the car’s exhaust system and can eliminate up to 90 % of pollutants.

A scrapping scheme, to allow drivers to trade in their polluting vehicle in exchange for a monetary compensation, should also be implemented. This is doubly important as it improves the current situation as well as the future one. The 2040 ban only prohibits new diesel and fuel cars, so up to 2039, fossil-fuel cars can still be sold. Seeing as cars have a lifespan of about 15 years, that leaves dirty ICEs on the roads until 2054! But if people have been incentivised to buy cleaner cars earlier, then transport from 2040 on will emit a lot less. France’s Climate Plan plans to set one up, though the amount of the compensation has not yet been decided, but Britain’s clean air strategy has been widely criticised for the absence of such a scheme.

The second challenge is increasing the amount of renewable sources in the energy mix. Let’s take the example of France. According to a study by France Stratégie, a 100% electric vehicle fleet would consume 90 TWh a year, increasing electricity needs by 20%. Nicolas Hulot’s Climate Plan aims to end coal-produced electricity by 2022, to reduce by half the use of nuclear energy to generate electricity by 2025, and to reach 40% of renewably-produced electricity by 2030.

A new mobility landscape

Changing the way we power our vehicles is only one example of the incredible revolution which is taking over the mobility landscape. At Autonomy, we’re convinced that improving the way we move around town will also improve urbanites’ daily life by making it safer, cleaner, and more enjoyable. Which is why, each October in Paris, we bring together companies, policy makers, journalists and citizens and encourage them to collaborate in order to accelerate the transition towards a more sustainable urban mobility.

Join us to get our cities moving!

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