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The Effect of the European Sovereign Debt Crisis on Electric Vehicles and Powertrain Design

by Kevin Mak | Apr 05, 2013

Threat to Charging Infrastructures – Emergence of New Super-Efficient, Conventionally-Powered Compact Models

The global banking crisis of 2008/9 resulted in many governments transferring debt from the banking sector to the private sector. This has resulted in widespread cuts in public spending, including investment plans for charging infrastructures for electric vehicles, especially in Europe.  As a result of the ongoing financial crisis, consumer demand for pure electric vehicles in certain European countries could potentially be dampened by the lack of charging points.

  • The Republic of Ireland is one example of a recent slow-down in implementation.  According to the government plan, some 1,500 charging points and 40 fast-chargers were to be in place by the end of 2011 – but by October 2012, some 860 charging points (around 57 percent of the plan) and 30 fast-chargers were installed.  As one of the European governments under pressure to limit public spending, it is unlikely that further funds would be made available to complete the plan, especially when electric vehicle sales have not met expectations – at just 192 units since 2009.  The cost to Electric Ireland in installing the current network has estimated to be around €3.9m (US$5m).
  • Better Place has responded to the lack of demand for electric vehicles by curtailing its infrastructure operations in countries such as Australia and the US and concentrate efforts in Denmark and Israel.
  • The only recent announcement to build new infrastructure has been from the UK government.  However, such an investment is limited to covering 75 percent of the total cost of construction by private vehicle purchasers at their homes, local governments for use by apartment residents and at railway stations and government facilities. 
  • Very few European countries have announced a charging infrastructure plan.  Major public infrastructure investments are limited to just France and Germany.

The resulting recession from the crisis has also made European consumers even more aware of fuel efficiency in vehicle purchases, but it has also lowered tax revenues among European governments.

  • As a means of meeting greenhouse gas emission targets, European governments encourage consumers to purchase vehicles that emit less CO2, by way of purchasing subsidies and taxes (called bonus-malus in France for example) or from a varying annual road tax system (as in the UK for example).
  • Other incentives, such as free entry to congestion charge zones, are also offered to low CO2 emitting vehicles, to limit congestion and air pollution in city centers.
  • As European consumers try to save money by running vehicles that emit less CO2, then the level of purchase subsidies increase and the receipts from annual road taxes decrease.  Fuel sales are also decreasing in some countries, as drivers seek more efficient vehicles.  For example, in the UK, fuel stations sold 37.67 billion liters of fuel in 2007 but only 34.16 billion liters in 2012.
  • As European governments try to limit public spending, then the offering of purchase subsidies and annual road tax discounts are changed to models emitting even less CO2.

Consumers’ desires for more efficient vehicles have yet to benefit EV sales in any large-scale way.  A lack of charging infrastructure and relatively higher costs over conventionally-powered models of the same segment has limited the market.  In addition, a new generation of super-efficient compact models are now entering the European market, which offer consumers many of the benefits of an EV without the drawbacks of high purchasing cost, patchy recharge infrastructure and limited range.

  • Since August 2012, the French bonus-malus system now offers a €400 bonus (US$516) to vehicles emitting less than 90 g/km.
  • The London Congestion Charge Zone offers free entry for vehicles emitting less than 100 g/km.  Future plans to amend the system are being discussed, which include the lowering of the exemption limit to 80 g/km, adding a group of models for congestion charging that are currently entering the Zone for free.
  • The current UK annual road tax exempts vehicles emitting less than 100 g/km.  It is also likely that the tax exemption level will also be lowered to 80 g/km, as receipts from the annual road tax decrease further as British consumers turn to more efficient models that are taxed less.
  • While plug-in hybrids, such as the Opel Ampera (Chevrolet Volt) and Toyota Prius PHEV emit less CO2 (27 and 49 g/km respectively), they are costly vehicles that essentially use two powertrains.
  • Models benefiting from a change in government policy would be those sub-compact or compact hatchbacks that can be modified by adding stop-start systems, adjusting compact diesel engines with reduced torque and variable vane turbochargers, using manual transmissions with longer gearing (but could also use re-programmed automated transmissions, as on the Peugeot 208), modifying the accelerator pedal mapping, reducing weight, use low rolling resistance tires and better aerodynamic features, such as grille shutters, extended tailgate spoilers and wheel deflectors.
  • Included amongst these models are the new Toyota mini-hybrids, with the Hybrid Synergy Drive powertrain modified to suit the smaller model.
  • But such modifications must not be at the expense of comfort and convenience features, such as power windows and air conditioning, nor mandated safety features, such as airbags.
  • Retail prices for these models are still at an affordable level, of between US$15,000 and US$20,000 (with sales taxes), and compare well against used cars that are more costly to run, as fuel economy of the efficient models reaches 60-67 mpg (US).
  • Examples include the Toyota Yaris Hybrid (79 g/km, T-Sprint 85 g/km), the Renault Clio dCi 90 Stop & Start ECO (83 g/km), the Hyundai i20 1.1 CRDi Blue (84 g/km), the Kia Rio 1 1.1 CRDi EcoDynamics (85 g/km), the Peugeot 208 Access+ 1.4 e-HDi Stop and Start EGC 70 (87 g/km), the Ford Fiesta Style ECOnetic 1.6 TDCi Start Stop (87 g/km), the Citroen C3 1.4 e-HDi (87 g/km), the Ford Focus ECOnetic 1.6 TDCi (88 g/km), the Opel Corsa 1.3 CDTi ecoFLEX (88 g/km) and the Skoda Fabia 1.2 TDI CR Greenline II (89 g/km).

The Strategy Analytics System Demand Forecast, to be updated later in April already includes this increased demand for stop-start systems and for full hybrid systems among Toyota’s compact segments.  But should the European Sovereign Debt Crisis end, likely to be some time in 2014, this growing demand is unlikely to fall away – it is more likely to accelerate deployment of stop-start and other fuel savings features in other regions and in other model segments in greater volumes.  The OEM Hybrid and Electric Vehicle Strategies Report will be updated in September 2013.

This analysis was conducted following recent updates to the EV/HEV Technologies Supply & Fitment Database and the Hybrid Technologies Legislation/Support Database.

 

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