The German government last week professed confidence in reaching its aim of 1mn electric cars on the road by 2020. Should this actually happen, Germany could significantly over achieve the 2020 EU CO2 emissions target for new cars. But there are serious doubts over whether it can actually be reached.
Manufacturers need to bring the emissions of new cars down to 95g CO2/km by 2020 from an official 123.4 g/km in 2014 — a tall order if they have to squeeze this progress out of engine improvements in just four years. This is where electric cars come in: they bring down manufacturers’ average emissions.
Electric cars have another major advantage for reaching the target, rooted in the small print of the 2020 CO2 emissions legislation. Every electric car counts double when working out a manufacturer’s average CO2 emissions for compliance in 2020. This loophole is phased out over the following years, but in 2020 it will have a significant, potentially decisive, effect on whether Germany overachieves the 95g CO2/km target.
And because it’s all about averages, the number of combustion vehicles manufactured that year will also be crucial. The smaller the overall number of new cars compared with electric cars, the easier it will be to reach or even do better than the CO2 target.
Getting 1mn electric cars on the road means multiplying their current numbers by about 40, from just 25,500 at the start of this year.
So far, the signs are not good.
Since the government launched an incentive scheme for consumers, only 4,451 buyers had applied for electric and plug-in hybrid cars by the end of September. So far this year, new registrations of pure electric cars are only up 4pc on a year earlier, with a slightly more promising 10.5pc increase for plug-in hybrids.
So the government, if it is serious about reaching 1mn electric cars by 2020, may have to increase the incentives nearer the time and create a buying spree. If this happens and 500,000 or more new electric cars come into the market in Germany that year, the country has a pretty good chance of significantly overreaching the CO2 target, especially if overall new car numbers grow more slowly than they have been. This is even if manufacturers fail to improve fuel engine efficiency from last year, Argus modelling shows.
If drivers’ interest in non-plug-in hybrid cars —which are more efficient that conventional hybrids — grows, average official CO2 emissions for 2020 could even drop below 85g CO2/km, Argus estimates.
But Germany is just as likely to miss the 95g CO2/km target.
For starters, the government is including plug-in hybrids in its subsidies and electric car goal, and their emissions are probably a little over half those of average gasoline or diesel cars per km — data is scarce. Also, they do not count double for compliance purposes.
So if half of the government’s electric car goal is covered by plug-in hybrids, Germany can only comply with 95g CO2/km if growth in new cars slows down drastically and/or the share of highly efficient combustion cars (i.e. non-plug-in hybrids) rises even more dramatically, according to Argus estimates.
Read the signs
So this is what to watch out for:
- The number of pure electric cars coming into the market in the year 2020, rather than in the run-up;
- How many new cars are made that year;
- The growth of conventional hybrid cars.