European automakers need to sell many more electric cars, but their customers aren't buying. Instead, they're buying more gas powered SUVs that emit more pollution than the cars they drove before.
The ramifications for automakers could be dire if they can't sell more electric cars by next year.
The European Union is scheduled to introduce the strictest standards for global-warming-related carbon-dioxide emissions in the world starting next year, requiring cars sold there to average about 57 mpg on the European test cycle (which is somewhat gentler than the one in the U.S.) If they don't, they could face fines of up 33 billion euros ($37 billion) per year.
The standards are set to ratchet up by another 15 percent in 2025 and by a total of 37.5 percent by 2030.
While European automakers publicly express confidence about meeting the standards, many independent experts say most are unprepared, and the German automakers met with German Economics Minister Peter Altmaier in a summit on Monday to plead for more consumer incentives for electric cars, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
2019 Peugeot e-208
Carlos Tavares, the CEO of French automaker PSA told French newspaper Le Figaro in February that the standards "jeopardize the jobs of 13 million people in the industry and could destabilize some of our European societies."
In February, Fiat Chrysler also signed a deal with Tesla, reportedly worth $2 billion, to pool its emissions credits with Tesla's electric cars in Europe. Tesla began selling the Model 3 in Europe in February and has been expanding its Supercharger network on the continent. The company reportedly sold 19,500 Model 3s there in the first quarter.
Other electric cars aren't faring as well, reaching a total market share just over 2 percent in 2018 (about a 2/3 increase over 2017.)
In the face of these increasing targets, European carbuyers are following in Americans' footsteps, choosing more large crossover vehicles and vans, powered by gas engines rather than electrics or, the old European standby, diesels. (Since diesels get better fuel economy than gas cars, they produce less global warming CO2 pollution despite their dirtier exhaust filled with smog-causing soot and nitrogen oxide emissions.)
Before the Volkswagen diesel emissions crisis, European automakers were counting on diesels to help meet the planned increases in CO2 emissions standards.
A new report by the European Environment Agency showed that in the past two years, emissions from European cars reversed a steady decline from 2010 to 2016, as more drivers chose larger cars and abandoned diesels in favor of larger gasoline engines. Carbon-dioxide emissions rose on average 0.4 grams per mile in 2017 and accelerated the increase with a rise of 2 grams per mile again in 2018, the report shows.
2018 Renault Zoe electric car in Purple Blackberry paint color
"Much faster deployment of electric cars with low emissions is needed across Europe," the report says,
Gas-powered cars accounted for 60 percent of sales across the EU in 2018, a near reversal of the 55 percent diesel market penetration before the VW diesel scandal. Diesels have dropped to 36 percent of the market and are concentrated in vans used for deliveries in Europe.
At the same time new diesel vehicles that use cleaner emissions systems no longer have such a fuel economy benefit over gasoline cars. And one in three new cars sold in the EU plus Iceland were SUVs, the report notes, most of them with gas engines. These SUVs averaged 10 percent higher CO2 emissions than the average European car.
The only countries in the study where emissions per car dropped were those with the highest sales of electric and plug-in cars: Iceland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Estonia, Finland, and Malta.