Transport Minister Martin Kupka understands the concerns of the automotive industry about the upcoming Euro 7/VII standard. In his opinion, it is not only too ambitious, but in some requirements it is directly unfeasible. The Minister described to the magazine Czech Car Industry how the negotiations on this standard look like and why he thinks it cannot pass in this form. He explained how the infrastructure for alternative vehicles is being built and also commented on the future of Europe.
Less than two weeks ago, you held talks in Brussels with the European Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, with one of the main topics being the forthcoming Euro7/VII standard (AutoSAP’s position HERE). You told him that this standard could have serious impacts on the car industry and consumers and would not have any significant impact on reducing emissions. What was his reaction?
I presented clearly the reservations and the position of the Czech government and pointed out that our key demand is to postpone the entry into force so that the automotive industry has the opportunity to prepare for all delegated acts, i.e. the related implementing regulations. From the moment when all these regulations are approved, this should ideally be a four-year period for us, at least two years. In addition, however, I have also stressed that, whatever the effectiveness, we see compliance with some of the requirements as unrealistic.
Commissioner Breton hears our concerns. He also points out that the main negotiations will take place in the Council of the EU, that is to say, among the transport ministers, and also within the European Parliament (EP). If we look at the past, we can see that it has often happened that the EP has tried to make some standards even stricter. But I believe that this will not be the case now.
What makes you think that?
Because in this case there will be much louder warnings about the risks of the current form of Euro 7/VII. This proposal may be counterproductive and result in a significantly more negative environmental impact than the European Commission (EC) expects, with the result that it will slow down fleet renewal in many countries and limit the ability of car manufacturers to invest in innovation.
In addition, the standard carries quite serious social risks. If the production of small, cheaper cars and, de facto, all cars with internal combustion engines were to be reduced from 2025 onwards, which could be the consequence of adopting the standard in this form, this could lead to job cuts and cause serious social problems. For many people, the car is not a social status but a necessary means of transport, some of whom would not have enough money to buy the more expensive eco-friendly ones. For countries like France, all this could be an explosive situation. Remember the fairly recent ‘yellow vest’ protests.
One more important and positive piece of news: the rapporteur for this standard is Alexander Vondra, with whom I am in very close contact. He has accurate information and I believe that he can convince others on the basis of facts and arguments. This fills me with hope that the final form of Euro 7/VII will be more sober and, in the end, more beneficial for the environment.
Do you think that it would not be effective at this point to push for a softening of the targets also, or perhaps especially, in the cabinet of Vice-President Frans Timmermans, who is in charge of the whole Green Deal in the EU?
I am prepared to negotiate with Timmermans as well, but I don’t know how “persuasive” he is. I also don’t know what the relationship is between the various Commissioners, and the EC is not the only EU body that has a say on the standard. Moreover, Commissioner Breton and I have been in contact for a long time because of the space activities that he coordinates at European level and I coordinate at Czech level. He is therefore a natural partner for these negotiations.
Do you have information on the positions of the individual member states?
We are holding discussions at the level of ambassadors in Brussels to find out what the mood is in the individual member states. We already know that this could indeed be a very important issue for France, but also for Spain, Italy, Romania, Germany and Slovakia, which are all countries where the automotive industry is very important and where smaller cars are produced.
However, alongside this, there is a group of countries that are not pushing this so much, but rather the opposite.
Yes, the Benelux countries, for example, have long been convinced champions of reducing the impact of transport at all times. We need to build alliances with countries that have the same problems as us. That is not to say that we are not aware of the need to reduce the environmental impact of transport. However, the goal must be reached in a viable way.
Apparently, Sweden is not one of the countries that would be too burdened by this standard. Will this mean that this agenda will not get as much space for the EU under the Swedish Presidency?
It is true that car transport in Sweden has long tried to be as environmentally friendly as possible and has been one of the pioneers in meeting some of the emission standards. This could be an argument for why Sweden should ignore our requirements.
On the other hand, Sweden shows great empathy towards the Czech Republic, not least in view of our successful Presidency. The advantage of our position is that it is firmly based on factual and technical argumentation. Swedish officials will undoubtedly be aware that some of the requirements of the standard will also have an impact on their production. To give an example, the requirement for low-emission brakes or sensors that monitor the amount of emissions while driving is difficult to meet if the technology is not currently available at all.
You mentioned the Czech Presidency of the EU Council. Couldn’t more have been done at that time?
I think that in this respect we went far beyond the Presidency, whose job is mainly to moderate the European debate and coordinate positions. The EC presented the draft standard on 10 November 2022, but we in the Czech Republic had an unofficial text of the standard before that, and I informed Commissioner Breton of our concerns by telephone on 8 November. I called for at least an extension of the deadlines – and this has also happened for trucks and buses compared to the initial proposal. I also told him that even a postponement in itself would not solve the problem and that the standard was unacceptable to the Czech Republic in this form.
The Czech Republic was then one of the first countries to submit its national position before the end of the year. It is only now that the national apparatuses are beginning to read the standard and see what it all means.
You said that now it is necessary to seek consensus with other ministerial colleagues. What negotiations are you looking forward to?
At the end of February, there will be an informal meeting of transport ministers in Sweden, where this topic will certainly be raised. After that, I should attend a bilateral meeting with the German Transport Minister Volker Wissing, who cannot be in Sweden. The German Minister is one of those who is speaking out loudly, saying that the European Commission, on the one hand, is demanding high climate protection targets but, on the other hand, is preventing their achievement through regulation.
The proposal for a Euro 7/VII standard is now under discussion, what will be the next course of action? When can we expect to see the final version?
The proposal is now in the ordinary legislative process, i.e. in the hands of the EU Council and the EP. At this stage, the two institutions are working separately on the proposal with a view to adopting their position on the proposal. They will then come together around a common table to negotiate the final form of the Regulation. Initial estimates are that this final negotiation could take place in the autumn or at the turn of the year.
Euro 7/VII requirements
Going back to the content of the draft standard, what do you think is most problematic in it?
There is certainly more. Some of the methods for measuring emissions of pollutants during specified boundary conditions are not yet known in detail at the moment because of the lack of relevant EC implementing legislation. The boundary conditions for emission requirements are unrealistic due to the physical and technical possibilities and at the same time the affordability of the design solutions. For the measurement of brake and tyre abrasion particles, as a completely new component of vehicle emissions, the suitability of the established methodology and the setting of limits that are technically achievable needs to be evaluated. Consideration should also be given to whether the new conditions should also apply to electric vehicles, which already have high acquisition costs.
Also, tightening the emission limits for trucks and buses is technically almost impossible. For example, the strict limits for nitrogen oxides are at the limit of measurability using existing measurement technology. The situation is similar for newly measured emissions, where there is not even a methodology to define the measurements.
It is clear that if the car companies were to develop new technologies, at least where possible, to meet the requirements of the standard, it would cost many billions, which would be reflected in the price of cars – as you yourself finally mentioned. How do you explain the fact that the automotive industry is expecting the cost of cars to rise by an average of EUR 2 000 as a result of the adoption of such a proposed standard, while Thierry Breton claims that the cost per car will only increase by EUR 100 to 150?
We must take very seriously the warnings from manufacturers that the Euro 7/VII standard would make cars much more expensive, because they probably know very well what they are talking about. What the carmakers are projecting into the increased costs for the end customer is the need to develop some new technical solutions, such as sensors that monitor particulate matter from brake discs and pads or micro-particles from tyre abrasion. Skoda Auto’s smaller models, such as the Scala, Kamiq and Fabia, will then reach a price level at which they will be unsellable to customers, according to the carmaker’s officials. The standard also imposes new requirements on electric vehicles, such as On-Board-Monitoring, battery life, brake emissions measurement and tyre abrasion, which could make these vehicles more expensive as well. This goes quite fundamentally against the need to ensure the affordability of electric vehicles, without which the transition to electromobility will hardly be possible.
Isn’t a standard like this actually unnecessary in a situation where other emission targets have already been set that will bring an end to the sale of vehicles with internal combustion engines from 2035?
It is difficult to say whether it is unnecessary, but in any case, in its current form, it conflicts with the objective of banning the sale of internal combustion engines. Very low emission limits, which should be achieved under more stringent real-world measurement conditions that do not take into account limit values in extreme operating situations, would require major investment in further development of the internal combustion engine. The return on such an investment is unrealistic in the event of a ban on the sale of ICE vehicles from 2035. In addition, the forthcoming regulation drains automakers of resources that they could otherwise devote to the development of more affordable electric vehicles, which makes no logical sense.
If the standard does not change, what could all this, combined with other stringent regulations, mean for the European car industry?
I am not a fan of portraying crisis scenarios, let alone an apocalypse.
But yes, Europe has a serious problem. It has become a bit more comfortable, and some regulatory attempts, instead of creating space for technological progress, are slowing it down. I am clearly of the opinion that, in order to avoid missing the train, Europe needs to focus on innovation. There is already too much regulation, and industry needs to be allowed to invest in the development of new technologies. We may be draining it inefficiently through inappropriate standards. That is the thing I fear. It is clear that in the future, electromobility will play a major role in transport – and we can see that China is already dominating here. But there is and will be room for synthetic fuels and hydrogen. However, the winner will always be the country that relies on technological development instead of all sorts of regulations.
What are we doing for this in the Czech Republic?
Already in 2017, the Government of the Czech Republic and the Automotive Industry Association signed a Memorandum on the future of the automotive industry in the Czech Republic. One of the projects based on the priorities of the Memorandum is the Future Mobility Support Programme, which links the public and private sectors. The preparation and coordination of the project is being handled by CzechInvest as the national agency for business support. The aim of the Mobility Innovation Hub is to create an incentive environment that harnesses the strong economic and innovation potential of the Czech car industry to support the creation of new solutions and services and accelerate the development of start-ups, while making the Czech Republic a centre for innovation in this area. This is one example.
Reducing emissions and switching to alternative fuels is linked to building charging and refuelling infrastructure. Under the EU’s draft Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Regulation (AFIR), there should be charging stations for electric cars on every 60 kilometres of motorway in the EU by the end of 2025, and the same for trucks five years later. And by the end of 2030, hydrogen cars should be refuelled on every 200 kilometres of these roads. Is it realistic to achieve this in the Czech Republic?
This year, the National Action Plan for Clean Mobility (NAPCM) will be updated to meet the requirements of the draft AFIR. The Ministry of Transport has so far supported the construction of more than 2,000 charging points, some of which are still under construction. I believe that at this rate, it will not be a problem to have over 20,000 charging points by 2030. The requirement to place charging stations for cars on every 60 kilometres of backbone roads will thus be met. Five billion crowns are allocated for the construction of charging infrastructure in the Operational Programme for Transport (OPT) 3.
At the end of January, Minister Kupka attended the launch of the 500th stand of the ČEZ network of public charging stations for electric vehicles in the Letňany shopping centre. Pictured here with Pavel Cyrani, Vice-Chairman of the Board of Directors of ČEZ. | Photo: ČEZ
As for hydrogen filling stations, according to the current NAPČM, there should be 12 hydrogen filling stations in the Czech Republic by 2025 and 80 stations by 2030. However, these targets do not yet reflect the requirements of the draft AFIR. We will logically join forces and would like to build refueling stations at the rail-road edge so that we can supply both future hydrogen trains and hydrogen trucks from these refueling stations. We have one billion crowns for hydrogen infrastructure in OPD 3. The hydrogen filling station in Barrandov should be opened later this year. We have so far supported the construction of a total of nine. However, there are problems with the supply of technological parts, so a number of projects have been delayed, but I believe that the filling stations in Brno and Litvínov will soon be completed.
However, in relation to the current AFIR proposal, which requires hydrogen infrastructure to be built every 200 kilometres on the main TEN-T network, it should be added that the EP would like to tighten these targets, reduce the distance to 100 kilometres and extend the requirement to other roads. However, the majority of states tend to disagree with the EP proposal. The issue of green hydrogen is also not settled. However, if hydrogen mobility is to make environmental sense, the emphasis on the use of green hydrogen is logical.
Will the updated NAPČM mobility still work with the prediction that in 2030 there will be 220 to 500 thousand battery electric vehicles and 40 to 50 thousand hydrogen cars in the Czech Republic? Or will these numbers be adjusted in some way?
I am not a big fan of action plans, I am a fan of action. What is important is how the plans materialise in the form of subsidy opportunities. As far as the number of alternatively powered vehicles is concerned, we will naturally refine our estimates, but so far we have been working from more of a lower scenario. It remains to be seen how the Euro 7/VII standard will affect these forecasts.
You said that in OPD 3 there will be CZK 6 billion for the construction of filling stations and charging stations. Will more money be available for this purpose from other European funds?
Yes, there is also the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF) directly managed by the EC. In addition, billions more will be available from the National Renewal Programme and the EU Modernisation Fund. However, these will be directed more towards supporting non-public charging infrastructure in residential buildings and businesses, similar to the Operational Programme on Technology and Applications for Competitiveness, where businesses will be able to apply for subsidies to build non-public charging stations.
In residential and office buildings in particular, where EVs are expected to be charged more frequently in the future, setting up chargers can be a problem. But the Ministry of the Interior, or the General Directorate of the Fire Brigade, is pushing a controversial draft decree that would make charging in buildings very difficult – significantly more expensive or sometimes impossible. Are you aware of this? Alternatively, if your ministry is significantly involved in ensuring the conditions for the development of electromobility, are you taking any steps in this area?
According to the 2021 decree, which implements the requirements of the European Directive on the energy performance of buildings, buildings should at least have preparations for the future installation of charging stations. Every parking space in a new residential building with more than 10 parking spaces should have the possibility of installing its own charging station. Therefore, the preparation of cable ducts should be foreseen. For non-residential buildings, similar conditions apply. However, at least one charging station must be installed right from the start.
Indeed, a draft ordinance is currently under discussion that would tighten the technical conditions for fire protection of garage buildings with a charging station. From the point of view of the Ministry of Transport, the proposal to apply the new conditions for the use of garages to existing garages that would have to be structurally modified is particularly inappropriate. This design is not common in regulations of this type. They usually stipulate that the new and stricter conditions apply only to future buildings or existing buildings that will be undergoing renovation. This is because structural alterations to existing buildings are often not realistically possible or can only be carried out at a very high financial cost.
We therefore request that the proposed conditions only apply to new garage buildings with a charging station and only to existing buildings if they are to be modernised. In general, however, we think that we should be very cautious with this ordinance, especially in a situation where no other EU state has such strict regulation.
I have already informed the Minister for the Interior that this approach could seriously jeopardise future purchases of electric vehicles. The decree has not yet been issued and we will debate it. I believe it will turn out well.
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