Automakers’ Focus on BEVs Could Accelerate Climate Change

BEVs may dominate the automotive powertrain landscape in the short-term but they could accelerate global warming.

That’s the warning from technology consultants Capgemini Invent whose white paper, Battery Electric Vehicles in the Fast Track, looks at the future prospects of battery versus fuel cell technology. However, speaking to TU-Automotive, Rainer Mehl executive vice-president, managing director manufacturing, automotive, life sciences at Capgemini Invent, said BEVs are not the answer to global warming on their own.

He said: “Do we believe that the BEV is solving the climate challenge? No we don’t. That’s why we are looking at fuel cell and other options. Here’s a government and regulator liability to do something about this because it’s so obvious that BEVs are not solving the climate challenge. They might lead to a CO2 reduction [for some countries] and even this can be argued about but they are not going to stop global warming.

“My view is that those regions of the world that are serious about the climate challenge will develop further answers. The two regions that I see as serious are, at the moment, Europe and China. China for the simple fact that had to because of the dangerously high pollution. These are where I expect the push to come from.”

One of the report’s author’s, Dr Philipp Haaf, head of eMobility, agreed that a broader approach to how energy for electric powertrains is produced is vital in the battle to slow global warming. He said: “The real question is where does the energy come from to power either the hydrogen fuel cell car or the BEV? We have to encourage the use of green energy because it’s used for mobility over all. If you use electric cars with green energy then it’s a totally different discussion than driving one with the current energy mix which changes from country to country.”

Impact of regulation

Haaf’s study, however, includes the regulatory impact on automakers that is driving the push towards BEV powertrains in the short-term. He added: “Our study suggests that over the next 10 years when we are talking about passenger cars, battery electric vehicles will be the most dominant powertrain among electrified cars. Naturally, the race is open after that because 10 years is a long time and there will be some technological developments, maybe with in the construction of the batteries themselves or changes in the charging infrastructure.

“On the other hand, looking at the fuel cell electric vehicle, the question is whether there would be enough technological steps in producing hydrogen and also when it comes to the efficiency of the fuel cells today. To be honest, we have no clue what the technology will look like in 15 years time.”

Mehl agrees that the here-and-now solutions are being forced on carmakers by regulators focused on urban clean air issues without enough consideration of the impact BEV technology could have in the long run on accelerating climate change. He said: “In Europe there is regulation on CO2 effective, with very high fines, from January next year. There is regulation with different method but the same effect in China, so the only automotive mass market without this overarching regulation is the US market. Our assumption is that Europe and China will continue to push on CO2 reduction to the point of subsidizing more the buying of electric cars because it is ready to reduce CO2.”

Automakers need backing

However, Mehl concluded that, with enough commercial support of better long-term solutions for climate-friendly powertrains from governments and regulators, alternatives, such as hydrogen fuel cell, could provide the better answer. He said: “There might be niches, like long-haul trucks, so my view is that the race is indeed open to develop further alternatives. Fuel cell will be one of these but the old challenges with the technology need to be solved and I believe governments and other global authorities should focus much more support for technologies like fuel cell until they are market-ready and companies can then step in here.

“However, in the short-term it will not be a profitable business for commercial entities because of all the current challenges. For this reason some commercial companies are reducing investment but this is where society as a whole should be accelerating development.”

— Paul Myles is a seasoned automotive journalist based in London. Follow him on Twitter @Paulmyles_


  1. Avatar Greg McGarvie 18th May 2020 @ 9:45 pm

    Well a misleading alternative fact headline, Followed by a contorted story trying to set up support for an outdated fossil fuel model by pivoting to a regulated hydrogen style economy. The only salient point supporting a possible increase in CO2?is because the US Australia and some other countries have not regulated for a less polluting future like China and Europe. A very poor argument why BEV will contribute to climate change. At no point are the economics and energy efficiency of BEV vs Hydrogen compared, let alone evidence of why a hydrogen economy is cleaner, simpler and more energy efficient than BEV charged by renewables

    • TU-Editor TU-Editor 19th May 2020 @ 8:38 am

      The opinions expressed in the article address the here-and-now situation with global energy production not the pie-in-the-sky dreams of the BEV lobby. The fact remains the bulk of fuel used to meet the world’s electricity demands still come from inefficient burning of fossil fuels at power stations, ergo, more electric energy demand means accelerated global warming. I’d also recommend you considering Bosch’s recent opinions on powertrain technology alternatives

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