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COP26: Carmakers criticised for not signing decarbonisation pledge

Car exhaust

Vehicle manufacturers have been criticised for failing to sign-up to a COP26 pledge to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars and vans.

The landmark deal on zero emission cars and vans was unveiled yesterday (Wednesday, November 10) to coincide with Transport Day at COP26, with leaders committing to working towards 100% zero emission new car and van sales by 2040 or earlier.

Twenty-four countries, six major vehicle manufacturers – GM, Ford, Mercedes, BYD, Volvo and JLR – 39 cities, states and regions, 28 fleets and 13 investors all jointly set out their determination for all new car and van sales to be zero emission by 2040 globally and 2035 in leading markets. 

However, several major brands failed to sign the declaration, including Toyota, Volkswagen and Kia.

Volkswagen says the deal would not work for developing countries that lack renewable energy sources and charging infrastructure for electric vehicles (EVs). While it stressed it is “fully committed” to electrification, it said that the pace of this will differ from region to region depending on “local political decisions driving EV and infrastructure investments”.

Furthermore, it said: "We believe that an accelerated shift to electro-mobility has to go in line with an energy transition towards 100% renewables."

Toyota says it operates as a business in more than 170 countries worldwide and has consistently achieved “industry-leading vehicle CO2 reductions”.

“This is based on developing and bringing to market a full line up of electrified vehicles to expand the options for reducing CO2 practically and sustainably – including hybrid, plug-in hybrid, battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles,” it said.

“We will provide the most suitable vehicles, including zero-emission products, in response to the diverse economic environments, clean energy and charging infrastructure readiness, industrial policies, and customer needs in each country and region.”

Kia, meanwhile, says it is aiming to achieve full electrification in major markets by 2040. Kia aims to fully electrify its vehicle line-up in Europe by 2035, and from 2040, Kia’s line-up in key markets around the globe will also exclusively consist of electrified models.

Hosung Song, president and CEO of Kia, said: ““For us, it is not only about setting goals and reaching targets. It is about setting a vision that will inspire others to join the movement to benefit humanity and protect the environment.”

However, electric car manufacturer Polestar is calling for “radical change” in the car industry to accelerate decarbonisation.

Thomas Ingenlath, Polestar chief executive, said: “Car companies are still talking about selling petrol and diesel cars until 2040.

“Considering the lifetime of a car, they will still be driving and polluting the second half of this century. They are delaying one of the most powerful climate protection solutions available to us.”

Ingenlath added that “large parts of the automotive industry seem to be switching to electric vehicles as slowly as they can”.

Ingenlath acknowledges the complexity of the challenge for traditional car makers, as well as the costs involved. He also welcomes moves by OEMs to develop electric cars. However, he fundamentally disagrees with their decisions to develop new generations of petrol and diesel engines.

He said: “This is not the time for incremental change, but radical change. Can you imagine describing this to a child today: 30 years from now, cars will still produce toxic gases, making the air harsher to breathe?

“Building and selling electric cars isn’t the end point, it is the beginning. We will need at least as much attention on creating a clean supply chain and ultimately recycling.

“An electric car is a good start, and a pathway to true climate neutral mobility, but, clean means clean from start to finish. Polestar is not perfect, but we are working at being better.”

Louis Rix, chief operating officer and co-founder of CarFinance 247, added: “Governments must lead change ahead of the EV transition. However, all the while some of the largest governments in the world fail to back the deal to eliminate new car emissions by 2040, car manufacturers can’t be expected to support it too.

"These motoring companies are big players within economies governed by the likes of Germany, China and the US. Ultimately, both governments and manufacturers must be concerned about the acceleration towards a purely EV industry. 

“We know that the charging infrastructure in the UK is not strong enough, and no nation has declared themselves ready for entire EV ownership. Furthermore, our research has found that one in five UK adults don’t like EVs, with 65% reasoning that there aren’t enough charging points. 

"Only once these concerns are quashed and dismissed can we expect the governments (followed by the manufacturers) to back the pledge. The onus is of course on governments, but motor manufacturers must work with them to achieve solidarity on the EV pledge.”

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