Emissions laws put EVs centre stage but choice is still an issue
The Geneva show didn't disappoint in terms of glitz and glamour but it seems electrification is still a way off, writes Contributing Editor Geraldine Herbert
As the doors opened to the most important Motor Show of the year in Geneva this week, it was clear that in responding to looming new and tougher emission regulations due in next year, car makers are placing all their chips on green. If they don't drastically reduce the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by their cars, they face steep fines.
Plummeting sales of diesel cars are being blamed for the rise of European car CO2 emissions with data published this week indicating that CO2 emissions rose in 2018 for a second consecutive year. With even stricter rules planned for 2030, electrification was the dominant theme at Geneva and ambitious electric concepts and plug-in vehicles were the focus of almost every stand.
Since the VW "dieselgate" scandal of 2015, car-makers have come under increasing pressure to invest in new, cleaner alternatives and at subsequent motor shows they may have pledged their souls to deliver electric cars but in reality, there has been a severe shortage of EVs that you could actually buy.
The car industry it seems, has been reluctant to spend many billions developing a new generation of electric cars for which mass demand remains largely unproven. But at Geneva there was an urgency in the "green" message and credibility previously absent. Europe is being left behind in the sustainability race and car makers are looking toward China, the world's biggest market for new vehicles, where electric cars are expected to account for 59pc of global sales by 2020.
Meanwhile, Tesla continues to shake up the premium market unleashing its Model 3 saloon and forcing big car makers into a race to catch up. In addition, US trade-tariff threats, fading ambitions for autonomous driving, Brexit and the rise in apps that threaten to turn car buyers into renters or simply passengers are forcing rapid adaptation on an industry where making predictions for the future is becoming ever more difficult.
German car maker Audi revealed an all-electrified line up with three new models - the Audi e-tron GT, the e-tron fastback and the Audi Q4 e-tron concept with more than a 450 km range.
Volkswagen demonstrated its ambitions in the field of electric with a new electric off-roader the ID Buggy concept car. Seat unveiled an electric SUV, the el-Born and an ev Vision iV concept was revealed by Skoda.
BMW confirmed they were on target to deliver 25 electrified models by 2025, including 12 fully-electric with the iX3 arriving in 2020 followed by the i4 in 2021. For Geneva they had the world premiere of four new plug-in hybrid models.
Fiat gave the world a glimpse of their take on an affordable EV in the form of Centoventi and Honda announced that it would be selling only electric or electrified models in Europe by the mid-2020s. They unveiled their e Prototype with a simple design, it will have a range of more than 200km and can charge to 80pc of its range in just 30 minutes.
The new fully electric Kia Soul is promising a range of 500km and is expected to go on sale here before the end of the year. Even people carriers are going electric and Mercedes showed an EV concept of their V-Class people carrier that will be followed by a production model later in 2019. With their sights firmly on the Tesla Model 3, Polestar, a sub-brand of Volvo launched its first pure electric car, Polestar 2.
Two of Europe's best-selling cars, the Renault Clio and Peugeot 208 will also be launched for the first time in an electric version.
So what does all this mean for the Irish market?
Figures from the Society of the Irish Motor Industry (Simi) show new electric car registrations so far this year are 1,129 compared to just 1,233 for all of 2018. This represents a staggering 541pc increase on this time last year and if this trend was to continue until the end of the year, the number of EVs registered this year alone would exceed 6,000.
While it would be tempting to infer that Government initiatives like the 0pc BIK and reduced tolls are finally having an impact, the increase is largely due to one single reason, greater choice. The launch in January of the Hyundai Kona electric, a small family crossover with a Tesla-like range of 449km has been the key driver of new sales so much so that it has become Ireland's best selling electric car.
Similarly, sales of electric cars in Europe increased 50 pc from 2017 to 2018 but still only account for 1.3 pc of the market with just 25 models for buyers to choose from.
Greater choice is the biggest consideration and while Geneva confirms that small city cars and high-end luxury vehicles have successfully moved towards electric, medium-sized and crucially medium priced cars are still not available.
Car markers continue to hedge their bets and roll out all manner of Plug-in hybrids (PHEVS) as a way to fill that void but Irish car buyers are not convinced.
Diesel car sales are down nearly 25pc and petrol has fallen by 3pc but it is regular Hybrids, that offer the ease of charging on the go, that are the biggest beneficiaries with an increase in sales of almost 14pc so far this year.
It seems buyers don't want the bother of charging and refuelling in one package.
Electric cars may have taken centre stage at Geneva but the gap remains between the number of electric cars you see at Motor shows and the number of EVs on offer in your local showroom.
The more electric cars there are on the market, the faster the price will decline and until car makers fill that void, for now motorists will still be drawn to less climate friendly SUVs, which account for one in three vehicles sold.