Is the country that gave birth to the modern internal combustion engine about to kill it off? Well maybe and maybe not. News that the German Bundesrat, the federal council of all of Germany’s 16 states, recently voted to ban gasoline and diesel powered vehicles by 2030 has made waves worldwide.
However, German petrolheads, or perhaps dieselheads, needn’t panic just yet, because the decision is non-binding and is as much a statement of intent as anything else. The Bundesrat doesn’t have the power to pass laws on its own accord.
It’s nevertheless an important development. Germany is the world’s third biggest car producing nation and the biggest in Europe. But it’s also extremely influential in the European Union. In recent years Europe has seen increasingly tough emission standards and restrictions on conventionally powered vehicles. Paris, for example, has banned older more polluting vehicles from driving on weekdays.
The Bundesrat passed a resolution calling on the European Union’s executive arm, the European Commission to "evaluate the recent tax and contribution practices of Member States on their effectiveness in promoting zero-emission mobility." What they’re calling for is an end to the lower taxes on diesel fuel throughout Europe that has encouraged diesel vehicles.
For many years diesel was seen as the fuel of the future for Europe but widespread cheating of emissions tests by many manufacturers, not just VW, and concerns about the health impact of diesel particulates has made diesel engines a threatened species throughout Europe.
Paris is just one of several cities around the world confronting major smog problems. In one March day in 2015 Paris even surpassed Beijing’s notorious air pollution levels. This is all contributing to a legislative atmosphere across Europe increasingly hostile to internal combustion engines.
Norway and the Netherlands have gone a lot further than Germany, announcing that they will ban all fossil-fuel based cars by 2025 in a move that has wide support across the political spectrum. Electric cars have already made huge inroads on Norway’s car market. Almost half the cars sold in Norway in September were hybrids, plug-in hybrids or all electric. On one level it’s a strange move as Norway is a major exporter of oil and natural gas. But Norway’s also blessed with ample hydroelectricity, making its electric vehicles carbon neutral.
Recharging stations are being rolled out across Europe. One EU directive coming into effect by 2019 is that all new or refurbished homes in Europe will need to have an electric vehicle recharging point installed.
The ambitious goals of European legislators is one thing, but the current reality of electric vehicle sales across Europe is quite another. With the exception of Norway and the Netherlands, sales have been modest even with the generous subsidies on offer from some governments. In June 2016 electric cars made up just 0.59% of the market, a figure that was down from the 0.7% at the same time in 2015.
So it would seem that despite the intentions of European governments the electric car revolution has a long way to go.