Paris Motor Show reflects Europe’s e-mobility drive

Murali Gopalan Paris | Updated on January 16, 2018

A lighted billboard reads "Think New" at the introduction of the new Volkswagen electric car at the Paris auto show, in Paris, France.   -  Reuters

With more electric cars, diesel could face headwinds

Electric cars were among the key themes at the Paris Motor Show which was thrown open to the press on Thursday.

With Skoda and Volkswagen being the first to kick off their press conferences by 8 a.m., the message that came through was loud and clear. The focus area of the future would be on electric vehicles, or EVs, as part of a larger effort to keep emissions in check.

VW reiterated that it was entering a new world of electro mobility which would become a reality by the end of this decade. The carmaker, whose image took a beating last year in the diesel scam, is now looking to be a global leader of EVs with over a million units planned targeted for production by 2025. The ID concept car, which was unveiled, pretty much signalled its intent in this space in the coming years.

A little over an hour later, Carlos Ghosn, CEO of Renault, drove home the same message with the new Zoe electric, while Mercedes-Benz showcased its Generation EQ electric concept to drive home its intent.

Clearly, the mood in the European auto industry is veering towards e-mobility and it remains to be seen how this will impact the future of diesel. Renault, for instance, is planning to gradually phase out the fuel for its compact range in Europe by the end of this decade with emissions laws set to tighten even further.

It now remains to be seen what implications this will have for suppliers of diesel systems worldwide as other automakers follow suit and cut back investments on engines. After all, they will need to contend with stiffer norms on clean air with diesel increasingly being perceived to be the villain.

Back home in India too, the fuel was recently in the eye of a storm when the Supreme Court banned registration of 2000cc plus diesel cars in Delhi for eight months. Even while this has now been lifted, carmakers are still not entirely sure what could happen in the short-term as this is an interim relief.

Further, customers are increasingly paranoid about buying diesel vehicles as legislation could make their investments redundant overnight.

Removing subsidies on diesel has also resulted in petrol making a strong comeback in India after being relegated to the sidelines till about three years ago. Yet, it is still a million dollar question if e-mobility can take off on the lines predicted by automakers at the Paris Motor Show.

Availability of charging infrastructure remains a challenge in growth markets like India where EVs have just not been able to make a mark. China, however, has a more aggressive plan in place with its government pulling out all stops to encourage e-mobility.

Further, with rapid urbanisation becoming the norm in emerging markets, commuting alternatives like Uber are increasingly posing a threat to car ownership.

This trend is equally evident in developed markets too, which will only put the pressure on automakers to constantly think out of the box and stay ahead in the race.

The Paris Motor Show clearly reflects the road ahead with a determined Europe set to tighten emission norms.

As other growth regions around the word also join the list, it will be interesting to see what the future holds for diesel even as e-mobility strives to make a difference.

The writer is in Paris on an invitation from Volkswagen

Published on September 30, 2016

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