EU’s vote could be the beginning of the end for combustion engine cars

Electric vehicle charging stations on Northeastern’s Boston campus. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

The European Union voted Wednesday to support a proposed ban on the sale of new gas-powered cars by 2035. The aggressive step to combat climate change would allow the E.U. to reach its goal of cutting vehicle emissions by 100%. 

The vote in Strasbourg, France, also moves forward a key E.U. initiative to reduce all planet-warming emissions by 55% by 2030, according to NBC News.

Is it possible to reduce CO2 emissions from new passenger and light commercial vehicles by 100% in just 13 years? After all, that would make it impossible to sell fossil fuel-powered vehicles in Europe.

It’s actually quite feasible, according to Robert Triest, chair and professor of economics at Northeastern.

“Electric vehicle technology is there,” he said. “Electric vehicle costs are falling fairly rapidly. And so by 2035 electric vehicles will likely be cheaper than internal combustion engine vehicles even without the subsidies.”

Although the cost to produce an electric vehicle is expected to surge by 22% in the next four years, bringing the cost up to $138 per kilowatt-hour, it’s predicted to steadily decline to as low as $90 per kilowatt-hour through 2031, according to CNBC News

Professor Bob Triest poses for a portrait. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Some vehicle manufacturers have already announced plans to phase out internal combustion engines by 2035 with one of the world’s largest automakers, General Motors, being the most prominent, Triest adds. 

At the beginning of 2021, G.M. announced plans to phase out gas-powered cars and trucks, and only sell vehicles that have zero tailpipe emissions. G.M.’s plan will have huge ramifications for the oil and gas sector, which is closely tied to combustion engine cars, The New York Times reports. 

One month later, Ford also announced plans to accelerate its transition to electric cars and phase out vehicles powered by fossil fuels. 

“It would be very helpful if public policy accelerated the transition to electric vehicles now,” Triest says. “That would help in terms of creating demand for electric vehicle charging stations, and also reduce the number of new internal combustion engine vehicles that will be sold between now and 2035.” 

Outside the E.U., many other countries have announced plans to transition away from combustion engine cars. According to Autoweek, Japan announced in 2020 plans to phase out the sale of gas and diesel-engined cars by 2035 but confirmed it will still permit the sale of hybrid vehicles. Canada was another country that announced the steps to phase out the sale of gas engines by the same year as Japan and the E.U.

The E.U.’s announcement comes as U.S. gas prices hit a record average high of $4.97 a gallon, according to the most recent AAA data. And experts don’t believe prices will stop rising any time soon. According to Natasha Kaneva, head of commodities research at J.P. Morgan, the U.S. could surpass $6.20 a gallon by August, Insider reports.

So, will the E.U.’s vote encourage the U.S. to step away from fossil fuels and move toward a world of electric-powered vehicles?

According to CNBC News, California has already unveiled a proposal to ban new gas-fueled cars and introduced a plan to ramp up the sale of electric and zero-emission vehicles by 2035. This is a new step for the California Air Resources Board, which will require 35% of new passenger vehicles to be powered by battery or hydrogen by 2026. 

Following in California’s footsteps, Massachusetts confirmed its plans to phase out the sale of new gas-powered cars. The proposal was part of the state’s Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030. That outlines how lawmakers have an interim target that leads to net-zero emissions by 2050. Transportation accounts for 40% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, Scientific American reports.  

“There are some states that have already taken very similar measures,” Triest says. “California is one, and Massachusetts is another.”

Most states, he says, encourage the sales of electric vehicles

“I think the transition is going to occur,” Triest says. “But we do need more to be done now to increase demand for electric vehicles to provide some certainty to manufacturers and other suppliers that there will be a market for electric vehicles as they increasingly come to market.”

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