The car industry might be putting the brakes on the corporate rollout of EVs

Vector illustration comparing electric and gasoline cars at a charging and gasoline station, respectively. There's a city building skyline in the background.
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Huge corporate demand for electric vehicles is on course to put at least 2.5 million battery cars and rising on the roads by 2030, but concern is growing among companies that the supply of EVs from carmakers is lagging behind demand and could put the brakes on the shift to greener road transport.

That is the core warning contained in an analysis released last week by EV100, the non-profit campaign that has seen growing numbers of major companies pledge to transition their road fleets to 100 percent electric models over the next decade.

Having first launched in 2017, the number of EV100 members has more than doubled over the past year from 31 to 67 firms across 80 markets, including five new joiners recently announced: Lloyds Banking Group; Zenith; Schneider Electric; Lime; and Danfoss Group.

Together these companies' commitments amount to 2.5 million EVs driving on the world's roads by 2030, even before consumer demand is considered, and that number is expected to rise rapidly as more firms shift their fleets to run on battery power in the coming years, according to The Climate Group, which runs the EV100 campaign.

The millions of EVs set to be rolled out by EV100 members over the next decade is expected to save 42 million metric tons of CO2 — the equivalent to 11 coal-fired power plants — compared to running petrol and diesel engines, The Climate Group estimates.

Its analysis demonstrates how corporates are helping to drive the growing global battery vehicle market around the world, with EV100 members deploying about 80,000 EVs on the roads to date, in addition to installing 10,000 charging points.

A growing band of corporates have recognized that not only are zero emission fleets critical to the credibility of their emissions reduction strategies, but that they also can slash fuel and running costs, open up new smart grid-related revenue streams and minimize the risk of reputational damage and litigation associated with air pollution.

However, the latest survey of EV100 members points to both growing demand for EVs as well as rising concern over the potential roadblocks to further uptake. Almost 80 percent of firms highlighted slower than anticipated production of EVs from automotive industry as the top barrier to switching their entire fleet to electric, a figure which is up by more than a third since the last survey a year ago.

As many as 23 new battery EV models are expected to hit the U.K. market in 2020, alongside 10 plug-in hybrid models and a new hydrogen fuel cell electric car, but European automakers are still set to release many more petrol and diesel models in the coming years. Meanwhile, for all the rapid growth, EV sales still made up only around 2 percent of the European car market in 2018 — a situation compounded by the fact many of the most popular EV models boast waiting lists of between six and 12 months.

Helen Clarkson, CEO of The Climate Group, said the auto industry was failing to respond fast enough to the rapidly growing corporate demand for EV fleets.

"For years automakers have raised the lack of demand as a problem for moving faster on electric vehicles," said Clarkson. "If automakers want to stay competitive, they need to shift to a higher gear on producing EVs — or risk losing their largest customers."

Carmakers are under increasing pressure to boost their EV manufacturing pipelines amid both consumer and political pressure for more environmentally friendly road transport. Last week, the U.K. government announced its intention to bring forward the phase-out date for fossil fuel car sales from 2040 to 2035 — or potentially even sooner — and hinted the ban would include hybrid vehicles. A consultation is due in the coming weeks.

Meanwhile, EU emissions standards are incentivizing manufacturers to deliver more low and zero emission models or risk massive fines, sparking speculation that a price war for plugin hybrid models could be in the offing.

However, the car sector has pushed back against the 2035 phase out target, with Mike Hawes, chief executive of industry body SMMT, criticizing the government for having "seemingly moved the goalposts for consumers and industry on such a critical issue," and pointing out the expense of investment in developing EVs.

Green groups on the other hand argue 2035 is not nearly ambitious enough to realize the United Kingdom's 2050 net zero greenhouse gas emissions goal, and that the fossil fuel car ban should instead be brought forward even sooner to 2030, arguing an accelerated shift to zero emissions models would deliver net economic and environmental gains.

For their part, most auto manufacturers have said they are committed to the EV transition, but warn that it will take some time to mobilize the multi-billion dollar investments needed to design new models and retool production lines. At the same time they complain that chopping and changing to incentive schemes and tax breaks, as well as a failure to scale of charging infrastructure quickly enough, are all hampering demand.

But investors and businesses are increasingly turning to electrified vehicles, envisaging a major shift to greener cars in the coming years that could come quicker than expected. Craig Bonthron, investment manager for global equities at Kames Capital, argued this week that the widespread adoption of EVs was "vastly underappreciated by most consumers and automakers at this stage," forecasting that sales of combustion engine vehicles would amount to "much less than 5 percent" of total car sales in 2035.

"Disruption on this scale always looks ridiculous in foresight and obvious in hindsight — in this case, there is also a push and pull from social pressure and government regulation," he said. "The ICE [internal combustion engine] motor industry will face a growing crisis over the next decade, like the coal industry in the past. This is an inevitable function of disruptive change and it is necessary in the environmental context, so there is no point trying to slow or stop it."

The Climate Group, meanwhile, also believes rapidly growing demand from EV100 members for plug-in vehicles indicates the U.K. government should look to set a more ambitious fossil fuel car phase out date of 2030, as this is the direction the market is heading.

"It's great that the government has brought the phase-out date for petrol and diesel vehicles forward to 2035, but with businesses accelerating the roll-out of EVs, a 2030 commitment would be the goal," said Clarkson.

Yet for all the potential disruption ahead for major automakers facing the insurrection of Tesla and businesses demanding battery-powered vehicles, those carmakers which do not rapidly shift their capital and focus towards EVs could not only harm their own business, but slow the broader shift to low carbon transport.

On the other hand, the purchasing power of major corporates is huge, and the business opportunity for carmakers which step up to meet the growing EV demand from these ambitious companies is surely not one they would wish to miss out on. For corporates at least, fossil fuel cars may be running out of road.

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