Taking stock of Europe’s imbalanced transition

Friday 8th September 2023

Headshot of Jon Lawes - Managing Director at Novuna Vehicle Solutions

For World EV Day 2023, Jon Lawes, Managing Director at MHC Mobility, reflects on Europe’s electromobility progress, fleet strategy, and the Continent’s imbalanced transition landscape.

So far this year European policymakers have wheeled out several initiatives to buoy green growth, including the Net Zero Industry Act (NZIA) and improved infrastructure legislation. It is still too early to measure the impact, but the impetus is welcome.

However, pan-European policy efforts do shine a light on just how imbalanced Europe’s transition landscape really is - especially when it comes to electromobility.

As we take stock of progress this World EV Day, some member states are charging ahead but others are much further behind. This disparity is important: addressing the imbalance will be key to Europe’s transition.

Mind the gap

One example is charging infrastructure. With more electric cars on the road, it is vital that EV infrastructure rollout keeps pace.

There are huge differences in the availability of charging points across Europe, with around 40% concentrated in just two countries – the Netherlands and Germany. Meanwhile, the incentive to invest in public charging faces an uphill battle for countries with fewer EV drivers.

A lack of public charging points threatens to undermine both business and consumer confidence in switching to EVs, reinforcing fears around issues such as range anxiety.

European regulators are taking steps to remedy this with the Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation, which mandates more fast-charging stations. However, it is unclear if this is ambitious enough and more charging is needed today, not tomorrow.

The carrot and the stick

Another issue is incentives.

A year on from the US Inflation Reduction Act, the US has experienced supercharged EV adoption. Europe’s answer to this has been the NZIA, but critics have voiced concerns around its complexity, and the competition that exists between green technology and other industries.

Meanwhile, the fleet sector must still account for what national governments are doing to facilitate the transition. For example, one of the issues facing the full EV transition has been the uncertainty around each country’s long-term tax initiatives and BIK rates for EVs.

These differences add up. Without new funding on the table, each member state must still play their part to ensure the NZIA delivers on its potential.

The age of backsliding

Finally, cost realities and the political ‘greenlash’ have made 2023 a year of fragmentation and backsliding on transition goals.

Europe has committed to phasing out new internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles by 2035, but Germany has successfully lobbied for an ‘e-fuels’ exception. Meanwhile, the Polish government has threatened to challenge the ban’s legality.

In the UK, the expansion of ultra-low emission zones in the capital has become a new wedge issue in politics, as tailpipe emissions hit the wallets of car owners during a cost-of-living crisis.

The German government has quietly shelved its public EV infrastructure targets. And it remains to be seen what impact, if at all, fresh European parliamentary elections will have on climate policy.

The European Commission is sending out the right signals, but Europe is not one homogenous political body and these developments undermine investment certainty in the transition. Different member states have their own competing priorities, and commitment to net zero cannot be taken for granted.

Thinking global, acting local

For fleet managers, building a standardised approach can be challenging because every member state is at a different stage of their decarbonisation journey. Good progress is being made but scratch beneath the surface and there is plenty of disagreement and disparity around Europe.

However, this imbalance must be fixed. We cannot afford to leave anybody behind if Europe’s transition is to succeed.

Cross-border fleet operators with a long-term EV strategy ultimately have a crucial role to play in transcending differences, inspiring confidence and building momentum for electromobility.