Electrification: divided car-manufacturers with mixed feelings

For months now, we have been struck by the widening gap between the ever-repeated intentions in favour of "electrification" and a commercial reality that fails to comply with it. On May 22, France's "Comité Stratégique de Filière" (a government initiative to have the industry's stakeholders work together defining common objectives) set a target for 2022 of 150,000 electric vehicles sold in 2022 in France, which should correspond, on the basis of 2017 registrations (25,000), to an annual growth rate of 43%. This had only been 14.5% in 2017 and, over the first 8 months of 2018, the increase was 7.4%. While P-HEV are growing by 49.5%, on such a narrow basis that this is not really significant.
 
Public authorities and services attached to the government seem to be eager for this to happen. Manufacturers say they are very actively preparing for it. Customers are, says the Kantar survey for Aramis, ready to take the plunge for 35% of them. But, for the time being, nothing is happening and the great market transformation seems to be ever postponed. In this context, everyone is hesitant: private charging operators do not see how they could pay off the investments they are considering; local authorities, burdened by the low use of the few charging terminals they have installed at great expense, are procrastinating; buyers of new cars prefer to wait for prices to fall and for the range of products to broaden; second-hand buyers are waiting for vehicles to be sold. Car manufacturers are blowing hot and cold and thereby contributing to undermining the ground on which they claim to be working.
 
Thus, PSA communicated this week on the steady progress of adjusting its comemrcial ranges, indicating that thanks to the work done on its two platforms CMP and EMP2, by 2019, 100% of the new models launched on the market in its four brands will be available either in a plug-in hybrid version (PHEV) or in a fully electric version (BEV). Two weeks earlier, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) - currently chaired by Carlos Tavares - released a study it had commissioned from FTI Consulting. The report is trying to warn of possible negative effects of electrification on employment (1). This is part of an intense lobbying effort to try to prevent the fervour of MEPs from finding a favourable response at the Environment Council on 9 October.
 
It should be recalled that MEPs have gone beyond what the Commission suggested for the post-2021 period: while the EU Commission was proposing a 30% reduction target in CO2 emissions by 2030, they have adopted the proposal of Socialist MEP Miriam Dalli (S&D, Malta) which requires a 45% reduction. ACEA's Secretary General, Erik Jonnaert, then hastened to vilify these "totally unrealistic" objectives because "they would require a massive and sudden change towards electromobility" adding that "the conditions for such systemic change are clearly not in place and consumers are simply not ready to massively "go electric" at this stage" (2).
 
This is the ambiguity of ACEA and the manufacturers who seem not to know what they want. They have mixed feelings: on the one hand they claim to be very firmly and voluntarily committed to electrifying their ranges and they need - in order not to have invested for nothing and in order for volumes to finally make it possible to lower prices - for the market to really take off; on the other hand, like Carlos Tavares in Geneva last year, they publicly express their doubts about the social value of this electric option and then seem to want to slow down its advent. The intention seems clear and the hierarchy of objectives clear: first and foremost, it is a question of "limiting the damage" whilst complying with the CO2 objective; the question of how then people will be persuaded to equip themselves with EVs or P-HEVs is a secondary one and, ultimately, if it is not successful, the European authorities will have to adopt the attitude of the American authorities who have adapted the objectives to "market reality" (see my column of 9 April).

 
Indeed, when we look at this year's sales figures in France, especially for PSA, we can understand what is at stake: over the first eight months, sales of Peugeot 3008 (a small SUV) increased by 25% in France and the engine mix clearly shifted in favour of petrol/gasoline, which represents more than 40% of registrations (compared to 36% in 2017). For the four models most sold by Peugeot (208, 2008, 308, 3008), the share of petrol/gasoline sales rose from 54% to 61%.
 
For Renault, carrying out the same calculation on Clio, Captur, Megane and Kadjar, indicates that the share of petrol/gasoline sales rose from 46.4% to 53.4%. It is therefore conceivable that the 2021 deadline is already problematic and that the prospects that Brussels are drawing for 2030 are dizzying: they would not only impose a forced march to electrification but would also force the car makers to decrease the share of SUVs in their product ranges. If we add to this the fact that the new test cycle is "individualized" (i.e. each variant of a model is "quoted") and leads for this reason to the fact that all the options by which the mix is enriched increase the emissions, which then have to be integrated into the manufacturers' results, we understand why, without being able to say so, it seems better for the industry to lay a trap for electrification rather than let an 2030 objective be imposed. A target which, were it retained, would oblige them to drastically revise the "upselling" strategies.
 
The question is whether this battle opened at this time of 2018 by the manufacturers can be won and whether they are united behind ACEA and Carlos Tavares to win it. Tavares himself said it in Geneva: in this case, the question of who is right or wrong in substance is less important than the ability to be heard. He, like ACEA and its representatives, now seem a little lonely when it comes to trying to be listened to.
 
Indeed, the German manufacturers - and VW in particular - are sending ACEA - or even IG Metall - to the frontline but are very actively preparing to lose in Europe as they lost in China: after having long resisted, they have understood that they were no longer politically audible and now want first and foremost to be supported to sell EVs and pass without much damage the 2021 and 2030 milestones. They are making very heavy investments and we can see VW is doing everything to secure its battery supplies.
 
Renault sells fewer SUVs than others, its diesel sales remain a little above average, the shift upmarket is not the alpha and omega of its strategy and its EVs have been waiting for customers for several years now. Fiat, now Dutch, will not be supported by the Netherlands nor Italy, while Jeep will have to save the company in Europe. Everything indicates that the work done over the last few weeks is being done without a real union and that it is likely to look like a shot at glory for this reason: the targets will be very hard to meet and the possibilities of procrastinating with electrification will, whatever people think, disappear. It will then be necessary to pretend to have always dreamed of this change, at PSA as at the others.
 
The scale of the work to be done, the investments to be made and the strategic reviews to be carried out reflect the gap between the reality of the market in 2018 and the 15, 20, 40 or 100% of "alternative engines" that will have to be sold in 10 to 20 years' time. The great manoeuvres have barely begun. The end of 2018 may well look like a kick-off from this point of view.
 
(1) https://www.usinenouvelle.com/article/pourquoi-les-constructeurs-europee...
(2) https://www.actu-environnement.com/ae/news/eurodepute-vote-emission-carbone-voiture-europe-31980.php4
 
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Translated with www.DeepL.com/Translator, amendments by Géry Deffontaines

La chronique de Bernard Jullien est aussi sur www.autoactu.com.

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