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The Automotive Industry Vs. The Planet

Buckle up! The United Nations has given us 11 years to save the world from climate breakdown, and as we enter the new decade, the motor industry is preparing to meet the challenges of the 2020’s. Of these, the most critical is adapting the industry to the standards and requirements needed to adapt to the threats of climate change. Several different measures being taken by leading manufacturers to create sustainable and profitable business models in the face of rapidly changing global circumstances.

Over time, the automotive industry has been one of the most responsible for climate change. Emissions from vehicles directly contribute to climate change. According to the European Environment Agency, despite Europe having the tightest emissions rules and standards, since 1990 Carbon Dioxide (CO2) emissions have slowly increased in the transport and automotive sector whilst they have decreased across every other sector – cars make up over 60% of these emissions.

As populations grow, so does demand for cars and therefore emission levels. The challenge becomes mass-producing desirable vehicles that don’t emit CO2 and move away from the traditional gasoline-consuming combustion engine. If countries are to stick to their commitments to lower CO2 emissions, then electric vehicles (EVs) are crucial.

The demand is there. In 2016, the market share for EVs was 2% but is predicted to rise to 22% by 2030. In 2017, sales of battery-powered EVs rose 51% compared to 2016 in the EU. At 41% of global share, China represents the largest market – and the amount of EVs has been doubling every year since 2014. The two best selling EVs are currently the Nissan Leaf and the Tesla Model S, responsible for over 500,000 global sales in 2018 alone.

Additionally, mainstream manufacturers are responding with progressive manufacturing arrangements. Apart from big names like Tesla and Nissan, Hyundai has also announced that it is developing a new $40 billion platform – solely dedicated to EVs, whilst Kia has just invested £85m in the UK electric van startup, Arrival – valuing it at £3bn. Moreover; Honda, Citroen, Peugeot, Renault, Jaguar, SEAT, Skoda, Ford and Volkswagen all have EVs on the market.

Several challenges remain. Sound government policies to stimulate investment in public infrastructure is needed to make running and owning an EV more accessible. Since 2013, the installation of electric chargers increased from 0.5 to over 5 million in 2018. However, only 10% of these are publicly available and an even smaller 2.5% are fast charging. Additionally, EVs are not environmentally friendly if the electricity they are running on is produced by carbon intensive activities, such as burning coal and gas. As such, investment in country-wide green technology is needed to decarbonise national power grids and generate clean, renewable energy.

There is no doubt that the 2020s will see a boom in EVs and large overhaul of the automotive industry. As advancements in Science and Technology are achieved, more efficient batteries will be developed, production costs will lower and EVs will become even cleaner and cheaper to run. It is predicted that in just 2 years – by 2022 – electric cars will be cheaper to own than conventional cars. Are we finally saying goodbye to the combustion engine of the past and hello to the hybrid engines and hydrogen fuel cells of the future? 

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16th of January 2020