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Greening Europe’s cars - 28/04/2010

EU proposals for developing the market for clean and efficient cars.

Giving a boost to electric cars, the commission announced plans today to promote the development of a network of publicly accessible high-voltage charging stations around Europe. It also aims to produce European safety and technical standards for these stations by 2011.

The plan is part of a sweeping new strategy for introducing more ‘green’ cars to the market, seen as crucial to reviving the car industry and weaning Europe off oil. The approach embraces efficient petrol-powered vehicles, as well as electric cars and models that run on natural gas, biofuels and hydrogen.

Industry commissioner Antonio Tajani says the auto industry has entered a “defining phase” for its future success. The strategy strikes the right balance between economic competitiveness and environmental goals, he said.

The world appears to be on the cusp of an automotive revolution, with global demand for eco-friendly cars expected to soar in coming years. The trend reflects concern about the impact of conventional cars on global warming, signs that the world is running out of petrol and, in the EU as in some other industrialised regions, dependence on foreign oil.

Growing demand for clean and efficient cars is a huge opportunity for an industry emerging from its worst crisis in decades. But policymakers and industry experts agree that without a coherent approach and a high degree of coordination among stakeholders, green transport could have a hard time taking off in Europe.

Electric cars figure prominently in the strategy, because the EU has already introduced standards for other cars that use alternative fuels. Moreover, technological breakthroughs, such as batteries that stay charged for longer, have made electric cars more attractive to consumers – and perhaps closer to mass marketing than some of their green rivals.

A number of EU countries – notably France, Spain, Germany, Portugal and Denmark – are pursuing wide-scale electric transport, in some cases enticing consumers with tax breaks and bonuses. But consumers could be turned off if, for example, plugs and sockets used for charging are not standard across Europe.

Transport accounts for about a quarter of the EU’s emissions of carbon dioxide, CO2 – a key greenhouse gas. Last year saw a 59% rise in EU demand for cars with the lowest CO2 emissions – the sharpest increase ever.

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