Eric-Mark Huitema (AVERE): “U.S. and Chinese EV manufacturers are currently taking away market share from European OEMs”
AVERE, the European Association for Electromobility, was founded in 1978. They were thinking about EVs long before everyone else. “Our mission remains the same: to promote electric mobility across Europe”, says Eric-Mark Huitema, the association’s Director-General Vehicles. Now that electrification is happening, AVERE’s role is more relevant than ever. “And while 95% of our work is related to cars and trucks, we also support electric two-wheelers.”
Initially, AVERE was an umbrella organisation for national organisations for EV promotion. More recently, the organization has expanded to include a wider range of e-mobility players, including charging providers and infrastructure, OEMs and users.
What exactly does AVERE do?
Eric-Mark Huitema: “We’re needed because e-mobility needs harmonisation. That’s why we have close contact with several of the EU’s Directorates-General, in particular MOVE (Mobility and Transport), CLIMA (Climate Action) and GROW (Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs). We also talk to European Parliament members who ask for our insights on matters such as CO2 and the EPBD (Energy Performance of Buildings Directive). We’re even leading some of the European Commission’s task forces, for example on EV fire safety. In short, we help decision makers understand the advantages of EVs.”
Eric-Mark, what is your role at AVERE?
”As Director-General Vehicles, we bring our members together at a strategy level, for example to set out a plan on how we as an industry interact with the European Green Deal. I also bring together the member at a policy level, where we manage specific policy files. AVERE has a small, focused team: about 10 people, all with the same goal: promoting e-mobility.”
Who are your members?
“We have the national associations. This includes the Norwegian EV Association, one of the largest EV driver organisations in the world. Obviously, that’s because 90% of new vehicles in Norway are already electric. Infrastructure-wise, we have large players like Fastned, Ionity, and Last Mile Solutions and on the OEM side players like Tesla, Polestar, Rivian, Lucid, GM – but also new Chinese innovative brands like NIO. New European brands like Volta Trucks have also joined, and many more new members are incoming.”
Do new members apply, or do you invite them?
“Organisations that wish to join must motivate their application. We only allow members who focus on e-mobility. They must also subscribe to a charter of our basic principles, including our demands that all new vehicles should be zero-emission by 2030, and all new trucks by 2035.”
“We have four premium car members: Tesla, Polestar, NIO and Enterprise. Enterprise is interesting, because they’re one of the largest buyers of cars in Europe, which will be remarketed after a few years. That helps create a big second-hand market for our other members.”
On the topic of e-mobility: is Europe electrifying fast enough?
“The start – from zero to a few hundred thousand – was very fast. But then we had the pandemic, the Ukraine war and the chip crisis. EV uptake has slowed down a bit. That was not bad, because it gave the infrastructure some time to catch up. Overall, the uptake is still good. In some countries, most new cars are already electric. Not just Norway. Also the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden. Germany and France are catching up quickly. Southern European countries are a bit slower. Overall, the trend is positive..”
What can we do in terms of infrastructure and policy to speed up the electrification of mobility?
“In my previous job at ACEA, one of my members always said you need three things to make e-mobility a success: first, you need the cars. Then, you need charging infrastructure. And finally, the TCO needs to be right, whether with subsidies or other forms of support. You need all three for it to be a success. If one is missing, the whole thing fails. Fortunately, we see the three things coming together in most European countries.”
“Norway is a great example. At the start the supply of EVs was limited, as was the number of chargers. But the available benefits drove huge demand from the public. These benefits included things like free parking, free charging and driving on bus lanes.”
How about the OEMs? Are they doing enough to electrify their ranges?
“Tesla, with its new factory near Berlin, only makes BEVs. It doesn’t get any better than that. As for European OEMs: they could do more. If they don’t, it’s maybe because they make more profit on an ICE vehicle than on an EV.”
“The main reason for that is that traditional OEMs have total control over the combustion engine production. Most EV batteries are still coming from Asia. However, OEMs are changing their way, and they’re at least assembling the batteries here in Europe. So it’s going in the right direction. It helps that the European Commission is now pushing for EV battery manufacturing in Europe. That will nudge the slow movers in the right direction.”
“Overall, traditional European OEMs are slower than certain U.S. and Chinese companies, who are currently taking away some of the market potential from our European OEMs. Especially the German ones. They’re now known for their high quality, so that might be a differentiator to their advantage. But when I look at the latest models from Tesla, Polestar or NIO, for example, they’ve really caught up in terms of quality.”
Many people still instinctively think ICEs are cheaper than EVs. What’s your take on this?
“If all you look at is the retail price, that’s probably still true. Yet even there the difference is narrowing. But when you look at Total Cost of Ownership, several studies clearly show that it is lower for EVs, especially when we look ahead to 2025 or 2030, when the second-hand value of a combustion-engine car will drop dramatically. The second-hand value of an EV, on the other hand, will remain high.”
“Moreover, I think the price for EVs will continue to drop. My colleagues in AVERE are closely watching the emergence of new technologies. Recently, we were talking to a major EV battery manufacturer in China. They said they’re working on a battery with a 1,000-km range, which will still weigh and cost the same as a battery that currently delivers a 300-km range. So, innovation can still make lots of things possible.”
What can and should OEMs do in terms of battery recycling?
“I always say that once you burn a liter of diesel, it’s gone forever. But after expending a kilowatt of energy, your battery is still the same, and can be repurposed and recycled. In China, for example, we see EV batteries that are not sufficient anymore for day-to-day driving being repurposed as storage for solar panels. That can provide you with power to heat your home at night, for instance.”
Chinese EV brands are entering the European market more easily than European EV brands can access the Chinese market. Don’t you think there’s an imbalance there, due to import tax differences between the EU and China?
“China is a big market, larger than the EU. We see that European cars exported to China, from brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz, are selling well in China, and they have for decades. What’s new is that for the first time, we have an influx of Chinese cars into Europe. So you could say things are evening out.”
“The only thing we should be careful of – and I think the European Commission is doing a good job of this – is to look at Carbon Border Adjustment Mechanisms. In other words, we need to make sure that there is an equal penalty for the carbon footprint of a car produced in China compared to one produced in Europe, if both are sold in Europe.”
“The global automotive industry is taking on board these adjustment mechanisms. So, Chinese and European OEMs are on a level playing field. There’s only competition on quality and price.”
Final question, on car data. This can be crucial for safety. Shouldn’t OEMs provide access to all their data, for free?
“Giving away everything for free is not a realistic option. OEMs spend a great deal of money making their cars safer. Then there’s the cost of generating the data, of the connectivity, and of turning the data into actionable information. So a small fee seems reasonable That’s what we’re currently discussing with the European Commission.”
“OEMs want to share data in a fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory way, especially if it benefits road safety. AVERE’s proposal is that there should be an independent, third-party organization looking at the real cost of the data, so it can be provided for a reasonable fee, if it makes sense to share it.”
“But we also need to look at what data is available. It’s clear that a low-cost EV won’t have the same sensors an EV from a high-end car will have, so you can’t oblige both cars to provide the same level of data. In future, we expect consumers to choose their cars not just based on brands, but also on the ease of connectivity. We see this happening already in China.”
Picture copyright: AVERE, 2023.