14 January 2013
Electric vehicles could become a common sight on roads around Europe – but only if drivers are able to charge up their cars wherever they park them, says industry association
Vehicle manufacturers in the European Union are world-wide technology leaders in fuel efficiency and safety. Electrically Chargeable Vehicles provide the opportunity for further EU leadership in engineering and can also encourage competitiveness in the industry, with a potentially positive impact on employment, including in other related sectors.
For this dream of electric or 'e' mobility to become a reality, both industry and consumers need to have confidence that investment in an ECV will pay off not only in terms of reduced running costs, but also in durability. Presently, ECVs are mostly considerably more expensive than their internal combustion engine equivalents. If a vehicle's obsolescence or impracticability is anticipated by consumers, they may decline the initial purchase. It is for this reason that the automobile industry has been pressing for standardisation of charging formats and components.
Standardisation provides predictability to investors, including both users and producers; it enables economies of scale, reduces costs for all stakeholders and is essential in increasing user acceptance. Electric vehicles will require an energy infrastructure that is more developed than the one that exists today. If electric vehicles are to take off, it should be possible for electrical vehicle owners to charge their cars wherever they park them, whether or not they have access to a garage. Every street will need charging points, which need to be functionally the same if a significant fraction of Europe's 200 million cars are to be replaced with electric vehicles, all of which will each need charging.
All relevant industries want to provide a simple and cross-border operational solution for European citizens. Accordingly ACEA, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association – along with CLEPA, the European Association of Automotive Suppliers and EURELECTRIC, the union of the electricity industry – agreed jointly in May 2012 on the need for a single harmonised plug system for the recharging of electric vehicles on both the vehicle and the infrastructure sides, and have put forward a proposal accordingly. The associations stress that this issue needs to be solved urgently, before the rolling-out of the infrastructure starts in different member states on a wider scale.
Unfortunately, there has been little progress on a framework to meet these goals. The EU has outlined its view of the direction of future transport policy and has set requirements for vehicle efficiency. However, it has to be consistent in its policy if e-mobility is to succeed. It will be nearly impossible to persuade consumers of the merits of the actual e-vehicles if there is nowhere to plug them in. Infrastructure policy needs to address disparities between member states. Without coordination, e-mobility cannot be harmonised, standardised and rolled-out across the EU in an effective way. Presently, the limited developments in the field have led to ACEA members' reevaluation of the anticipated growth rate of ECV's market share.
E-mobility can be part of a long-term solution to our mobility challenges. However, we need to have the right framework conditions if it is to really take off. It will only be possible to book real progress if there is full cooperation between utility providers, infrastructure companies, the energy sector, standardisation bodies and the automotive industry – with the full support of national governments and the European institutions.
Careful negotiation, widespread implementation of technology and adequate preparation may over time conquer the barriers to large scale acceptance of electric vehicles. As they become cheaper and go further consumers will accept them more and more as alternatives to traditional road vehicles. However, governments and the panoply of other service providers need to offer solutions to the barriers which exist beyond the range of the vehicle manufacturers' scope. If the effort is made now, the coming crop of electric vehicles may well become a common sight on newly rewired roads near you soon.
Ivan Hodac is secretary-general of ACEA, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association