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What is the future of green cars in Europe?

By Simon Austin May 23, 2022

What are green cars?

Green vehicles, also known as eco-friendly vehicles or clean vehicles, are considered more environmentally friendly than those than run on petrol or diesel. Instead, they are powered by alternative fuel or electricity.

The different types of green cars

Green vehicles come in all different shapes and sizes and include battery electric, plug-in hybrid electrics, hybrid electrics, and biodiesel cars. Other lesser-known types of green transport are hydrogen and fuel-cell vehicles, solar cars, clean diesel vehicles and compressed-air vehicles to name but a few. The main types of green cars are explained below in more detail:

Battery Electric Vehicles (BEVs): BEVs are powered solely on electricity, which is taken from battery packs in the vehicle. They tend to have a greater output compared to hybrid and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicles (PHEVs): A PHEV has a gas tank as well as a charging port and can therefore run on fuel if the battery becomes flat or run on electricity if the fuel is all consumed. They tend to have larger battery packs and more powerful electric motors than hybrids.

Hybrid Electric Vehicles (HEVs): The most common form of HEV is the hybrid electric car, although there are also hybrid electric HGVs, buses, boats and aircrafts. With HEVs, all the power comes from fuel, but there is also an electric motor that can assist the fuel-powered engine.

Biodiesel Cars: Not too dissimilar to diesel-powered vehicles, this type of green car has many benefits when it comes to fuel and energy efficiency. Biodiesel is manmade, making it a lot easier for manufacturers to produce as well as making it a lot less damaging to the environment.

The advantages of green cars

The environment benefits the most when it comes to green transport. The main plus points being:

  • Reduced CO2 emissions
  • Less noise pollution
  • Enhanced air quality
  • More sustainable use
  • Knock on effect of demand for fossil fuels falling and increased appeal for renewable energy

However, the owner of a green car also benefits. Advantages include:

  • Cheaper running costs and maintenance
  • Easy and quick to charge at home
  • A quieter driving experience.

For more information, check out our article on why electric vehicles are the smart choice.

Commercial vehicle fleet by fuel types in Europe

Light commercial vehicles

According to ACEA, this is how light commercial vehicles are powered in Europe:

  • Diesel: 91.2%
  • Petrol: 6.2%
  • LPG (liquefied petroleum gas): 0.8%
  • Natural Gas: 0.6%
  • Battery Electric: 0.4%
  • Plug-in hybrid: 0.01%
  • Hybrid electric vehicles: 0.06%

The UK’s fleet is even less green with 95.3% running on diesel, 4.2% on petrol, 0.3% on battery electric and 0.1% on hybrid electric.

From the ACEA report, it is interesting to note that 91.2% of the EU van fleet runs on diesel and just 0.4% of vans in the EU are battery electric, meaning that diesel-powered light commercial vehicles are still more prevalent in all EU countries (except for Greece). Diesel is the favoured fuel of choice for HGVs in the EU with 96.3% powered by diesel (less than 1% of the fleet uses petrol). Only 0.24% of HGVs on EU roads produce zero-emissions, although this is an increase compared to 0.04% in 2019. Regarding buses in the EU, 93.5% run on diesel, 1.4% are hybrid electric and 0.9% are battery electric. However, certain countries are leading the way when it comes to electric buses thanks to the Netherlands whose fleet is made up of 12.4% electric buses and Luxembourg whose percentage stands at 6.6.

Sales of alternatively-powered passenger cars have risen in recent years, but despite this, they only make up 5.3% of the whole EU car fleet. Other green cars such as battery electric cars and plug-in hybrids make up 0.5% and 0.6% of the total, and 1.2% of all cars are hybrid electric in the European Union.

Medium and heavy commercial vehicles

According to ACEA, this is how medium and heavy commercial vehicles are powered in Europe:

  • Diesel: 96.3%
  • Petrol: 0.7 %
  • Natural Gas: 0.5%
  • Battery Electric: 0.24%
  • LPG (liquefied petroleum gas): 0.1%
  • Hybrid electric vehicles: 0.02%
  • Plug-in hybrid: 0.0%

The proportion of fuel used in the UK is as follows: 98.6% of medium and heavy commercial vehicles run on diesel, 1% run on petrol, 0.2% are hybrid electric and 0.1% are battery electric.


According to ACEA, this is how buses are powered in Europe:

  • Diesel: 93.5%
  • Natural Gas: 3.5%
  • Hybrid electric vehicles: 1.4%
  • Battery Electric: 0.9%
  • Petrol: 0.2%
  • LPG (liquefied petroleum gas): 0.1%
  • Plug-in hybrid: 0.03%

For the UK, the percentages look like this: 98.3% of buses run on diesel, 0.9% are battery electric and 0.2% run on petrol.

Emissions targets for 2020-2024

The European Union has come up with a target to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions to 40% below 1990 levels. This should be achieved by 2030. Some sectors are not included in the EU’s emissions trading system and are therefore subject to a 30% reduction compared to 2005 levels by 2030.

Compulsory CO2 emission standards for new vehicles have shown to be successful in curbing these harmful emissions but currently these standards only apply to cars and vans in Europe. Heavy-duty vehicles (alongside cars and vans) are also responsible for producing great amounts of greenhouse gases but unfortunately the EU is the only large-scale vehicle market in the world that doesn’t impose CO2 emission standards on heavy-duty vehicles.

It is estimated that CO2 emissions would decrease by 14% each year by 2030 if the measures implemented to reduce CO2 emissions were to include mandatory CO2 guidelines for cars and vans. There would also need to be mandatory CO2 criteria for heavy-duty vehicles that demand an annual 3.0% reduction rate starting in 2020 and adding an extra 20 cents per litre to fuel taxes in all EU member states. This is compared to 2005 levels, assuming a 2025 CO2 standard for cars equivalent to 78g/km as measured on the NEDC (about 3.9% annual CO2 reduction).

This would equate to around half of the reduction required (30%) for the transport sector by 2030. If the 2025 CO2 standard for new cars were specified at 68g/km (about 6.8% annual CO2 reduction), the transport sector could see an overall reduction of 22% in yearly CO2 emissions by 2030. Although this would be nearer to the EU’s target of 30%, it still wouldn’t be enough, which means other measures will need to be implemented such as using rail more than road. 

Revision of the Regulation (EU) 2019/631

On 14 July 2021, a proposal was presented by the Commission to revise this EU regulation by determining CO2 emissions performance criteria for passenger cars and light commercial vehicles, as part of the “Fit for 55” plan. The main aims of this proposal include:

  • Contributing to the EU 2030 and 2050 climate objectives by decreasing CO2 emissions produced by vans and cars.
  • Bringing benefits to citizens by deploying zero emission vehicles further. These benefits include improved air quality, lower cost of vehicle ownership, and energy savings.
  • Promoting innovation in zero-emission technologies, strengthening the technological leadership of EU manufacturers and suppliers and creating employment in the field.

The proposal makes amendments to Regulation (EU) 2019/631 by setting more ambitious standards for reducing CO2 emissions produced by new cars and vans. Any new passenger cars registered in the EU would have to produce 55% less emissions and new vans would have to produce 50% less compared to the CO2 emission targets that applied in 2021. By 2035, new passenger cars and vans CO2 emissions would have to be reduced by 100% and therefore all new vehicles would be completely green due to zero emissions. The Commission would have to report on the status of the zero-emission plan every two years and its effectiveness and impact would need to be reviewed in 2028.

Penalties for excess emissions

Passenger cars and vans fall under the light commercial vehicles category and contribute around 12% and 2.5% respectively to the total amount of carbon dioxide (the main greenhouse gas) produced in the EU.On 1 January 2020, Regulation (EU) 2019/631 was introduced whose task was to determine CO2 emission performance standards for light commercial vehicles. EU fleet-wide CO2 emission targets were set for 2020, 2025, and 2030, and a plan was put in place to promote green cars i.e. zero and low emission.

With these strict criteria in place, vehicle manufacturers face penalties for every vehicle registered that year if the emission target is exceeded in any given year. The fine works out at 95€ for each g/km that has surpassed the target.

What does the future of green cars look like?

As with most new technologies, there are challenges to be faced and green cars aren’t an exception. Stumbling blocks include:

  • Lack of charging stations
  • Long charging times
  • High cost at the beginning
  • Effects on the grid
  • Often can’t travel as far

On the whole though, the future of green cars looks positive and as more people purchase green transport, more benefits will emerge such as lower battery costs equating to lower vehicle prices, and attractive governmental incentives. As more time and effort is put into combatting climate change and people are becoming more aware of the effects, the demand for green transport will no doubt grow and the future of transportation will gradually change for the better.

Here is how to get a greener fleet with Verizon Connect.

Simon Austin

Simon is the Associate Director, International Marketing, EMEA & APAC. With over 20 years marketing experience in the IT software and business analytics industry, Simon believes passionately in the power of data and how it can help business realise their full potential faster.

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