Making clean and efficient vehicles is easy – but it is more challenging to develop cars that people want to buy and that make economic sense, European Commission vice-president for Industry and Entrepreneurship Antonio Tajani tells Public Service Review: Transport
editor Jonathan Miles What criteria must clean and energy-efficient vehicles meet?
First, it is important to define what is actually meant by clean and energy-efficient cars. In my view, these can be either based on electric or hydrogen technology, but internal combustion technology can also be significantly improved and contribute to environmental protection. The future will see a mix of technologies, but they will definitely need to be clean. Of course, this will not be the only criterion for success – vehicles also need to be safe, attractive, comfortable and affordable. That is the whole challenge. It is easy to make a clean vehicle, but we need really sustainable solutions that also make economical sense and are wanted by customers.What is the European Commission doing to promote electric vehicles and charging points?
The commission's 2010 strategy on clean and energy-efficient vehicles included a range of measures specifically dedicated to EVs. Since then, many actions have been implemented. We have already adapted the regulatory requirements for vehicles, the so-called type-approval system, in order to take into account the specificities of EVs. Another example is a large demonstration project called Green eMotion, which was launched in 2011 with a total budget of around €42m and supports research and development of road transport solutions that have the potential to achieve a breakthrough in the use of renewable and non-polluting energy sources in Europe. The commission is also working on standardisation of the recharging interface between EVs and the grid, and on creating the appropriate framework conditions for clean vehicles to be taken up by the market.How safe and environmentally friendly are EVs?
With the regulatory measures adopted, we want to make sure EVs are as safe as conventional ones, both in everyday use as well as in case of an accident. It is important to eliminate potential consumer concern on this issue, as this might constitute a barrier to the uptake of new technologies. It is clear that EVs can provide environmental benefits. They produce no toxic emissions harming air quality and emit far less noise. There is also a clear benefit in terms of CO2, even with today's electricity mix. The question of charging is essential for this, because upstream emissions depend on the source used for generating the electricity and the time of charging.What support will the commission give to the European car industry to strengthen its leading role globally, while basing production on clean and energy-efficient technologies?
The commission is providing substantial support for research and development in the automotive sector. The Green Car Initiative, launched in 2009, is a clear example of this. It covers a budget of around €100m on a yearly basis until 2013. Activities in these fields are also foreseen in the new Horizon 2020 programme for research and innovation, which is currently being discussed with the Council and the European Parliament. Working towards the adoption of globalised technical regulations represents another important avenue. This is particularly critical for new technologies to avoid any unnecessary compliance costs that could come from diverging technical rules in markets around the world. To this end, we launched in November last year a specific initiative involving the United States, Japan and other major regions on the rules applicable to EVs.What does the future hold for electric cars in Europe?
That remains to be seen. Today the market is obviously still very small, but the number of sales is increasing. Many new models still have to be introduced in the coming years, but we should not expect the market to be suddenly taken over by electric cars. It will be more a case of evolution than revolution. Moreover, we should not focus on so-called pure electric cars alone. Hybrid vehicles and fuel cell vehicles will play a role, in addition to the advanced internal combustion engine, which is also becoming increasingly electrified. The customer will decide, but it is up to policy-makers to put in place the right framework for the transition to clean vehicles.This first appeared in PublicServiceEurope.com's sister publication Public Service Review: Transport