Volvo signals carmakers’ growing confidence in an electric future
Volvo’s decision to exclusively build electrified or hybrid cars is the beginning of the end of the company’s relationship with fossil fuels, according to one motoring organisation.
One Swedish carmaker starting down the road to a zero emissions future will not solve global warming alone. But the whole automotive industry following suit would begin to make a serious difference in reducing oil demand and emissions.
Transportation accounts for 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions and, as the US Environmental Protection Agency notes, almost all of the energy – 95% – powering those cars, planes, trains and ships still comes from petrol and diesel.
Electric cars show a route off that dependence, but their take-up has repeatedly disappointed. Barack Obama predicted 1m such car models in the US by 2015 – the actual number was 280,000.
There are now 2m globally, out of more than 1bn cars in total, showing the mountain that still needs to be climbed. Bloomberg predicts 41m electric car sales a year in 2040, while BP this year revised its prediction upwards by 43m to a total of 100m on the roads by 2035.
Renault-Nissan has arguably led the way in 100% electric cars so far, with 350,000 sold in total. VW, looking to clean up its image after the diesel scandal, plans to sell 1m electric cars a year by 2025.
Volvo’s target is to sell 1m electric vehicles – that includes plug-ins and hybrids as well as pure battery-powered cars – by 2025.
The company’s chief executive said he had changed his view from two years ago, when he suggested pure electric cars were not ready for primetime, because things had changed faster than expected.
“I think things have changed, and you can change your mind as well. We were sceptic[al] about the cost level of batteries and the lack of infrastructure to charge all-electric cars,” Håkan Samuelsson told a press conference in Stockholm.
“Things have moved faster. Customer demand is increasing. Battery costs have come down. There is also movement now on the charging infrastructure,” he said.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, called the plan a “bold move” and said: “The announcement marks the beginning of the end of the company’s relationship with fossil fuels.”
Beyond carbon emissions, fully electric vehicles are also seen as a panacea for tackling the dangerously dirty air, generated by conventional combustion engine cars, that blights many cities in Europe and Asia.
James Thornton, chief executive of ClientEarth, the environmental law group which sued the UK government to improve its air pollution plan, said: “Volvo’s ambition in moving rapidly to cleaner technology should be heeded urgently by other manufacturers to defend the health of young and old alike.”
Capital cities such as Paris, Madrid, Athens and Mexico City have said they will ban diesel vehicles from 2025 to cut air pollution. That leaves electric cars or petrol cars with hybrid engines as an obvious way to help millions breathe easier – not to mention a readymade market for Volvo’s future models.