While the European Commission wants to accelerate the deployment of low-emission vehicles, Slovakia continues to drive in the slow lane.

The environmentalists call it an “early Christmas present to the car industry”. Consumer groups say its goal is “not to upset the vested short-term interests of the European automotive industry.”

The legislative package “Clean Mobility” did not satisfy European green and consumer NGOs. They applaud the target to reduce the emissions of passenger and light commercial vehicles by 30 percent between 2021 and 2030, but are disappointed by the Commission’s decision not to set legally binding quotas for manufacturing low-emission vehicles.

What is the view of a country with the highest per-capita car production in the world? It depends on whom you ask. However, the overall ambitions are lower than in Brussels. The highly internationalized Slovak automotive industry finds the emission targets “extremely hard to meet” or even “unrealistic”. The national government and electromotive association are satisfied.

Slovakia not in a hurry

The automotive industry in Slovakia manufactures annually 1 million vehicles. It employs 127 thousand people and represents 12 percent of GDP. Three big international automotive companies have built their factories in the country, the fourth is under construction.

Slovakia is the only European country manufacturing Volkswagen’s electric car e-Up!. However, most of the cars produced have combustion engines. That is what the export markets want. For now.

The new legislative package was introduced by the Slovak Commissioner, Maroš Šefčovič. The Commission Vice-President responsible for Energy Union said that it “is setting the conditions for European manufacturers to lead the global energy transition rather than follow others.”

Slovakia, dubbed the ‘automotive superpower’, is not yet a leader either in manufacturing, or in using low-emission vehicles. And judging from the reactions to Šefčovič’s package, is not in a rush to jump on the new trends.

Responsibility for the jobs

“The environmentalists and other NGOs often have unrealistic expectations and demands, while they do not bear any responsibility either for declarations, or for their execution,” said Ján Pribula, Secretary General of the Slovak Automobile Manufacturers Association (ZAP).

The automotive industry feels responsible “not just for fulfilling the legislative requirements, but also for the sustainability of employment.”

ZAP welcomes only the final deadline for cutting emissions – the year 2030. As for the deadline for the intermediary target – the year 2025, “it does not provide enough time for the necessary technical and conceptual changes in the vehicles.”

The Commission wants the average emissions level of newly manufactured vehicles reduced by 30 percent in 2030 compared to the referential levels for 2021. They are 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre for passenger vehicles and 147 grams for light commercial vehicles.

The proposal is “too strict”

Pribula explains that in order to comply with the new limits, the manufacturers need time for the development and testing of new technologies, their approval and market deployment. This cycle “cannot be shortened or sidestepped without serious threats to functionality, reliability and security”.

“Commission’s proposal to reduce emissions by 30 percent is extremely demanding in general and outright unrealistic for light commercial vehicles in particular,” argues the representative of Slovak automotive manufacturers.

ZAP agrees that cutting CO2 emissions can be “an incentive for developing innovations in the automotive industry.” However, the Association prefers a more moderate reduction target of 20 percent for 2030. “Given the low level of acceptance and market deployment of alternative fuels in the whole of Europe, the present proposal is too strict and ambitious,” Pribula points out.

Only a “responsible and realistic approach” can secure “sustainability and competitiveness of the European automotive industry, which Slovakia is a part of in the global arena.”

Bratislava refuses quotas

ZAP promises to “communicate with the Slovak representatives in the European institutions and MEPs in order to minimize the threat to the most significant industry in Slovakia.”

Vojtech Ferencz (Smer-SD) is the Ministry of Economy’s State Secretary responsible for the modernization of the automotive industry and for e-mobility. He understands that manufacturers need time to adapt to the new rules. Before new models are introduced to the market, they need tests lasting for years, warns Ferencz.

He does not agree with quotas defended by environmental groups. He admits that if more electric cars were produced, their price would drop. “However, this may not be directed from Brussels,” he adds.

The State Secretary finds the legislative package Clean Mobility a “good and doable challenge”. The emission targets are “ambitious, but realistic”, says Ferencz echoing the European Commission.

Prolonging the subsidies

Ferencz says that the Ministry of Economy is currently “fighting” to prolong the subsidy scheme for purchasing battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. The Ministry launched the scheme a year ago in cooperation with the Ministry of Environment and ZAP to transpose European legislation.

When buying a battery electric car, Slovak customers can get a €5,000 subsidy. If they decide for a plug-in hybrid, they get €3,000. The €5,2 million scheme was initially designed to allocate funds until the end of this year.

In late September, only 31 percent of the funds were allocated. Ferenz nevertheless has a “positive” view, “given that it is the first such project of support.”

The Slovak Electric Vehicle Association (SEVA) would welcome the prolonging. The SEVA comprises electricity producers and distributors, manufacturers of chargers, data companies and other e-car service providers. It calls for a support for building the charging infrastructure. Because of the lack of it, there are less than a thousand electric battery vehicles riding on the Slovak roads.

The need for compromise

“The Clean Mobility package provides a complex solution, striking a compromise among very diverse actors in the field of transport, electricity, environment and consumer protection,” stated SEVA Director Peter Ševce in a press release.

“Despite the fact, that the package does not directly include the end of technological neutrality and does not propose legally binding targets for the market share of electric vehicles, the proposed mandatory limits for new cars in 2025 and 2030 are from the technological point of view reachable only by massive introduction of electric vehicles,” the Association’s Director thinks.

SEVA praises the proposals for favouring low-emission vehicles in public procurement, the allocation of €800 million for the development of the charging infrastructure and €200 million to support battery manufacturing in Europe.

Slovakia as a leader?

The Slovak e-car lobby believes that the Commission gives member states “a free hand for their own measures.” It calls on the Ministry of Economy to “grasp electromobility in a more ambitious way”.

“Given the strength of the automotive (35 percent share on the industrial export of Slovakia) and of the energy industry, the high share of zero-emission power (almost 80 percent of the electric energy is created from zero emission sources) and the innovation potential, it is vital for Slovakia to play an active and leading role. That should be visible in the discussion of Commission’s proposals,” added Ševce.

The Ministry is indeed preparing an “Action Plan” with targeted measures to support electromobility. According to State Secretary Ferencz, it includes lower taxes for e-cars and special lanes, which have only been discussed until now.

At the moment, electromobility in Slovakia remains in the slow lane. “A radical change in the market of alternatively fuelled vehicles will not happen overnight,” said Pribula speaking for the automotive industry. And it looks like all the relevant actors accept that.

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The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation program under grant agreement No 785277.