How long is left before the end of the petrol engine?

Europe is aiming to become the first climate-neutral continent. Among other initiatives is an EU-wide ban on the production and sale of new petrol, diesel or hybrid vehicles, which is expected to come into force in 2035. But what other solutions are being mooted, and how realistic is the EU’s ambitious plan to reduce its CO2 emissions?


  • Future

  • Mobility

The European Union plans to reduce CO2 emissions from new vehicles to zero from 2035 onwards, marking the end of the road for the internal combustion engine. All new vehicles that roll off the assembly line after that point will have to run on fully electric motors, hydrogen motors, synthetic e-fuels or biofuels. This plan is part of the massive “Fit for 55” project, which takes its name from the EU’s target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% by 2030, relative to 1990 levels.

Polluting to become more expensive

Companies that release CO2 into the atmosphere have to obtain the legal right to do so. These so-called “emission rights” or “carbon allowances” are issued in the form of certificates. Each certificate accounts for one tonne of released CO2, all for the (current) price of around 55 euros. The “Fit for 55” project will introduce strict limits on the market for carbon allowance trading that will in turn cause the price for one tonne of CO2 to increase. The system will also include the CO2 released by fossil fuel-burning airlines and shipping companies for the first time. Individual citizens aren’t permitted to take part in the system themselves, but can voluntarily pay compensation to offset their own emissions.

How do you expect the plan for climate-neutral transportation to be implemented?

The EU considers imposing “fleet-wide thresholds” on vehicle manufacturers to be the most significant mechanism for making transport climate-neutral. Under this system, vehicles would be permitted to release no more than 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre on average. Each gram released above that limit would incur a massive fine, with the exact amount to be calculated based directly on the number of vehicles sold per year. One way for vehicle manufacturers to reduce their CO2 emissions is to sell large numbers of electric cars. Electric vehicles have a CO2 emissions rate of 0g/km and are worth twice as much when calculating the automotive fuel efficiency of a manufacturer’s fleet.

A second initiative calls for implementing new tariffs to prevent simply shifting the problem, i.e. the release of emissions, to non-EU countries. This new tool in Europe’s climate policy arsenal is designed to make it possible to introduce a CO2 tariff on certain imported goods produced outside the EU, thus ensuring a level playing field for producers based within the Union and beyond its borders.

« Tariffs should prevent outsourcing the CO2 problem »

Still no decision...and yet more obstacles

The greatest obstacle facing “Fit for 55”, and with it the blanket ban on selling fossil fuel-burning cars by 2035, is the fact that it’s still a plan; nothing has been set in stone. There’s still the whole legislative process to come, and every EU member state has to agree to it. It’ll be fiercely resisted in some countries, that’s for sure. But that’s not all; there are another two main stumbling blocks to deal with.

Differing time frames: While nations such as Denmark have already made clear their desire to introduce the ban on selling vehicles with internal combustion engines from 2030, France wants to give itself until 2040 to do so. Other member states, including the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands, Slovenia and Sweden have been following the same time frame as Denmark so far. Some cities have even taken matters into their own hands: Paris will ban all diesel vehicles from 2024 onwards, while Amsterdam is looking at banning all petrol and diesel vehicles, including motorbikes and scooters, from 2030.

For some, combustion engines are being phased out too quickly; for others, the process is taking too long. And this is being reflected on a political level, too, particularly in party politics. Even Greenpeace, to name but one organisation, has come out against “Fit for 55” for its perceived lack of expediency. Greenpeace’s main complaint is that 2035, the year touted as the end of the internal combustion engine, is no earlier than when most European car makers had already planned to phase those motors out anyway.

Used cars: Experts are unanimous in their opinion that banning all petrol cars already on the road from 2035 onwards is completely unrealistic. Governments may also have a hard time putting a stop to the trade in second-hand cars.

« Too fast/too slow as a point of contention  »

Conclusion: The end of petrol cars still TBD

“Fit for 55” is a massive project that has to overcome some equally massive obstacles. There’s also the fact that the plan calls for both the transport and construction industry to pay for their CO2 emissions. This will affect practically every citizen as a road user, home-owner or tenant. Expect a lot of vocal protest from all sorts of angles.

One thing is clear: the days of “it’ll work out in the end” are long gone. The EU Commission’s lofty goals will not be achieved with ease and convenience. Every single person will have to make fundamental changes to their everyday habits – and that’s undoubtedly the highest price to pay.

Transitioning to having a fleet of fully electric cars by 2030 at the latest and becoming climate-neutral as a whole company by 2040 are core components of Mobility’s strategy. This means that we’ll meet the targets set in “Fit for 55”, and then some. However the EU project develops, Mobility will always be ready to go.

« The targets are only achievable if people change their behaviour »

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