U-turn on combustion engine ban

The sale of new combustion-engined cars will no longer be banned in the EU after 2035, as long as they can run on e-fuels. So, will the UK Government also change its mind?...

Sports cars willing up with petrol

The European Union (EU) has watered down its plans to ban the sale of new combustion-engined cars from 2035 – a decision that could see the UK Government come under pressure to rethink its own 2030 ban.

Previously, only low-volume manufacturers (those registering less than 1000 vehicles per year) would have been exempt from the ban in the EU. However, new cars that run on e-fuels will now be allowed as well, after pressure was applied by German and Italian officials.

E-fuels are made by mixing CO2 captured from the atmosphere with hydrogen that’s been created by splitting water molecules using renewable energy, so are claimed to be carbon-neutral.

Exempting bio-fuels (made from biomass, such as wood waste) was also proposed by the Italians, but ultimately rejected.

The EU’s U-turn on e-fuels is likely to be welcomed by performance car brands famed for their engines, such as Ferrari, Lamborghini and Porsche. Meanwhile, British car makers Aston Martin and McLaren are also understood to have been looking at the viability of the technology for powering future models.

However, others in the car industry are dismissive, with Volkswagen brand boss Thomas Schäfer (below) recently describing the debate over e-fuels as "unnecessary noise".

Volkswagen brand boss Thomas Schäfer

One problem with them is that they are currently far more expensive to produce than petrol, which is another reason why their use is initially likely to be reserved for high-end models. 

Critics of e-fuels also argue that, on a per-mile basis, they require more energy than is needed to power electric cars, and that they still lead to emissions at a local level.

A Department for Transport spokesman told What Car?: "E-fuels are not proven technology, have expensive and complex supply chains, and emit much of the same pollutants as petrol and diesel. They might have a role for specialist vehicles, but we are not looking at them as a solution for normal cars and vans. We remain committed to helping people switch to electric vehicles, having invested £2bn so far.”

Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), which represents car makers in the UK, added: “All major car makers are committed to net zero and have invested billions in the technology to get us there. There may be different pathways in the UK and EU, but the importance of electrification remains undimmed and we must invest further in the UK’s public charging network so all drivers have the confidence to go electric.”

Under current plans, the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the UK from 2030.

Hybrids will be exempt until 2035, but after that, only the sale of battery-electric cars and other zero-emission vehicles, such as those that use hydrogen fuel cells, will be allowed.

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