As diesel cars and vans continue to offer tangible benefits to consumers, they are here to stay – now and in the future.
The Paris Agreement and the EU’s 2030 Climate & Energy Framework will require steep cuts in CO2 emissions from transport. Currently, 25% of all EU greenhouse gas emissions come from transport, and 40% of this comes from passenger vehicles; making a switch to cleaner powertrains inevitable.
Electric vehicles offer clear benefits in urban areas as they do not emit pollutant emissions at the point of use and therefore do not affect local air quality. Electrified vehicles, such as hybrids, are also zero-emission capable in urban areas.
As a result of climate change mitigation and air quality policies, the vehicle mix of 2030 will be markedly different from the one we have today. Increasingly low battery costs will make battery-electric vehicles a more viable option for consumers. The automation and digitalisation revolution will mean that more people will – slowly but surely – move towards shared mobility.
Modern diesel engines will remain in the car of the future
The transition towards low- and zero-emission mobility is not, however, without obstacles. We can also expect this transition to be gradual, rather than an overnight change. New powertrains, such as battery-electric and fuel cell-electric vehicles, are coming of age and becoming more cost-competitive, but new infrastructure is needed to improve their attractiveness and increase market uptake.
Underlining the complexities of this challenge, the European Commission estimated in 2017 that without new measures, 90% of vehicles driving on EU roads in 2030 would still run on an internal combustion engine (ICE) only.
In the interim, the most likely dominant powertrain in new cars sold in 2030 will be hybrid vehicles that offer lower CO2 emissions than conventional diesel and petrol vehicles. These vehicles typically combine a diesel or petrol engine with an electric motor. At low speeds, they often use only the electric motor, and their regenerative brakes convert kinetic energy to electric power, making them highly economical and climate- and air quality-friendly for the typical ‘stop-start’ driving in urban areas.
Hybrids recharge their batteries with the help of the conventional ICE, and therefore are not reliant on charging infrastructure. As such, their deployment does not face the same infrastructural challenges as battery-electric vehicles do in the coming years. In many countries, users of hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles also enjoy lower taxation rates than conventional vehicles. Moreover, for longer distances, hybrids as well as plug-in hybrids can still rely on their ICE without the need to recharge.
At the same time, in urban areas, where it is easier to deploy charging infrastructure due to the higher population density, the share of battery-electric vehicles is likely to increase dramatically in the years leading up to 2030.
Therefore ultimately, the 2030 vehicle mix will be far more diverse than it is today, and be made up of fully electric vehicles, as well as hybrid and plug-in hybrid petrol and diesel engines. Each will have its own advantages based on the different use-cases and geographical location.