“We must adhere to the ban on the sale of new thermal vehicles from 2035”

“We must adhere to the ban on the sale of new thermal vehicles from 2035”
“We must adhere to the ban on the sale of new thermal vehicles from 2035”

Maxence Cordiez, associate expert on “energy and climate” at the Institut Montaigne, explains why it is important to maintain the objective of ending the sale of new thermal vehicles in 2035. Returning to this course would, according to him, be triply counterproductive : for the climate, for the mobility of the population and for the European automobile industry.

One of the major political axes of the European mandate which is ending was to define the objective of carbon neutrality in 2050 and to adapt all European legislation to this new objective. Concretely, this means that the European Union is committed not to emit more greenhouse gases than what ecosystems and possible future carbon capture and storage systems will allow to absorb by this deadline. To get there, drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are needed across all sectors.

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A key element of this set of legislation lies in the ban on the sale of new thermal vehicles from 2035. As the European elections approach, this measure is attacked by certain political parties, on the grounds that it would be inapplicable or could harm to the European automotive industry. As we will see, it is quite the opposite: reversing this decision would condemn European industry, at the same time as achieving our climate objectives.

An imperative for carbon neutrality

The transport sector is the second largest emitter of greenhouse gases in Europe behind electricity production (CGDD, Key climate figures – France, Europe and World).

Passenger cars and light commercial vehicles represent almost half of its emissions. Therefore, achieving carbon neutrality without reducing emissions from these vehicles is unthinkable.

The electrification of road mobility constitutes one element of the solution. Although it is incorrect to call electric vehicles “zero emissions” – because their manufacture and the production of the electricity that powers them emit more or less CO2 – these have a much better carbon footprint over their entire life cycle than their thermal equivalents. This is true even in countries where electricity is more carbon-intensive than in France.

This benefit can obviously be improved by producing batteries in countries where electricity itself is low carbon (France, Sweden, Finland, etc.), by decarbonizing the electricity of the countries of use, and by limiting energy consumption and of vehicle material, that is to say by favoring small aerodynamic vehicles.

Sustaining the European automotive industry

Faced with the explosion in sales of electric cars around the world – they reach around 40% in China and 20% in Europe – the market for new thermal vehicles appears twilight. Although Europe has an advantage linked to its experience in this segment, it would be illusory to hope to maintain our industry in a market that is disappearing at the global level.

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If China today has a lead in electric vehicles and battery production, the market is still new enough that this is not insurmountable. Postponing the transition of the European automobile industry would amount to accepting its downgrading in the medium term, in favor of reducing risks in the short term.

European industry needs a clear direction to begin such a structuring transition, and this cannot change at the whim of elections. This is why Carlos Tavares, CEO of Stellantis, recently declared himself hostile to calling into question the 2035 objective for the end of the sale of new thermal vehicles.

Beyond the milestone, the European automobile industry and its outlets must be supported by the European Union in this transition, otherwise it risks being supplanted by Chinese manufacturers, who benefit from massive support from their government.

Reduce European dependencies and protect mobility

An argument often put forward against the end of sales of new thermal vehicles is that of European dependence on raw materials (lithium, copper, cobalt, nickel, etc.). However, it is important to remember that dependence on imported hydrocarbons is just as real, and that it is not without its problems.

This is the case both on a geopolitical and market level, especially since current investments by the oil industry seem insufficient to meet global demand in the medium term. Maintaining dependence on petroleum products thus compromises the mobility of less well-off households.

In the field of metals, there are ways to secure supplies. This is also the whole challenge of the new European regulations on critical materials.

Guaranteeing our supply in volume and price will require concerted action on several levers: new extraction and conversion capacities on European territory, collection and recycling of materials in Europe, diversification of non-European supplies, research and development to diversify metal dependencies and thus relieve the demand for certain metals and offer alternatives in the event of tension, adopt an approach of sobriety of materials, etc.

Supporting the gradual extinction of thermal vehicles

Announcing the end of the sale of new thermal vehicles in 2035 constitutes a strong signal to put the industry and the public authorities of the Member States in working order.

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Transforming this ambition into success, however, requires an in-depth review of mobility policies in general, to reduce the need for transport (via town planning, the development of teleworking, local tourism, etc.), develop alternative mobility to the car and intermodalities (i.e. the interfaces between different means of transport), improving energy efficiency through regulations on mass and aerodynamics, etc.

“Returning to the end of sales of new thermal vehicles in 2035 would be triply counterproductive: for the climate, the mobility of the population and the European automobile industry”

Finally, massively developing electric mobility involves building and implementing an ambitious industrial strategy on a European scale to gain strategic autonomy and secure supplies at all stages of the value chain, from raw materials to vehicles.

Thus, reversing the end of sales of new thermal vehicles in 2035 would be triply counterproductive: for the climate, the mobility of the population and the European automobile industry.

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