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Emissions: Europe Pressures its Auto Industry

Put two electrodes, an anode, a cathode and some chemistry into some kind of plastic box, and you have what it takes to make things run. It is a so-called ‘rechargeable lithium ion battery’ and powers basically anything, including the smart phones we stare at all day long (and all night long too), pacemakers, digital cameras or watches.

In America, entrepreneurs seem to be a lot bolder a than European ones. While the European automobile industry, especially the big German players, spent decades explaining how the electric car could not be successful for 18,650 reasons, the Americans refrained from complaining, and just made it happen instead.

Elon Musk and his people thought if those rechargeable lithium ion batteries could run everything we use, why not put them in cars as well? They just purchased the Lotus Evora, a British-made sports car which usually ran on V6 combustion engines with anywhere between 276 and 430HP and blew lots of exhaust emissions into the air. But Tesla purchased them without those engines.

The Mercedes EQ was put on the road six years after Tesla’s Model S. Photo: Mercedes-Benz

They installed electric motors into those rather small vehicles. It is safe to say the Tesla versions were crammed with rechargeable lithium ion batteries, 18,650 battery cells, to be precise. Not only were those Teslas, on the basis of that small Lotus, faster than the original, but also a whole lot cleaner.

On certain executive floors in Stuttgart, Ingolstadt, Munich and Wolfsburg, they laughed at this guy in California. But only a few years later, the effect had reversed, meaning they cried crocodile tears when they heard or read the name Elon Musk, for one simple reason: This guy, who came out of nowhere, showed the largest manufacturers that they were wrong all along.

Once Tesla’s Model S was seen all over the place, including in Europe, the big players scrambled to do exactly what he did. All of a sudden it was indeed possible to build, drive and sell electric vehicles. And not only the industry noticed it had screwed up big-time, but also politicians in Brussels and elsewhere.

Early attempts to reproduce Elon Musk’s ideas were rather disappointing. Electric cars made in both Europe and Asia looked weird, and partially still do. Their range was disappointing, and mostly still is. While the Model S can easily drive 300 miles (482 km) without recharging, the Nissan Leaf managed to do half that distance on one load. The Citroën C-Zero, Peugeot iOn and Mitsubishi MiEV, the three are basically the same car, did about a third.

Now, much later, the big German car makers are just starting to sell proper electric vehicles. One excellent example, according to those who had the privilege of being able to test it, is the Mercedes EQ.

First of all it looks great. It will be cheaper than the Tesla Model X, its direct competitor, and it does have the performance it needs to attract buyers. The EQ will take its driver and passengers on a 280 mile (450 km) trip in one go.

Tesla showed the European manufacturers they were wrong.

Germany, car country number one in Europe, subsidizes electric vehicle purchases up to a certain price with 4,000 Euro (4,635 U.S. Dollars or 3,565 Pounds Sterling). The Federal Audit Office may not have liked the idea, but car buyers do. So does the environment.

More and more attractive electric vehicles will be offered by the big car makers in Germany, France and elsewhere. They are now working on their emission-free models lighting fast. It’s not like they really want to, but they have to. The European Union is still angry about Dieselgate, a huge scandal which engulfed the better part of the German car industry. Now Brussels is tired of games.

The E.U. is working on requirements for the industry, which will be designed to fight the climate change the Trump Administration says does not exist. The Ecology Committee in the European Parliament actually wants car makers on the continent to decrease the CO2 emissions their products are spreading by 45 percent until the year 2030.

The only reason no high-ranking car industry managers suffered heart attacks when they heard about this was the fact that an even bigger decrease had been demanded months before, by the E.U.’s Mariam Dalli. The left-wing MP from Malta does have a say here, since she is Coordinator for Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety (ENVI). Dalli originally wanted a 50 percent decrease.

Once the European Parliament decides on the matter next month, the industry will know what kind of percentage it has to expect. But whatever it is, 20, 30 or 45 percent, the car makers should get going yesterday. In the paradise of cars, Germany, the percentage of electric vehicles on streets and roads stands at 2 percent. That embarrassing number needs to increase at the speed of light, in order to get the CO2 down. Otherwise the industry will pay, a lot.

Most European countries do not have enough loading stations to support all the electric vehicles which are supposed to race back and forth on the continent’s roads soon. And that issue is only the tip of the iceberg.

What does the industry say? Even a reduction of 15 percent was too much, representatives stated. There is something else they do not like: The E.U. does not only want a huge CO2 reduction, but also an electric vehicle rate. Twenty percent of all news cars sold in 2025 are supposed to be electric, and 40 percent in 2030.

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