Last year it did not end up like the automotive industry I expected. It was worse than expected and fell by 0.5% worldwide. But within a market affected by commercial tensions, doubts about the future of new technologies in certain markets and the entry into force of the new calculation of WLTP emissions, there was a segment that set records: the electric vehicle. 1.26 million cars were sold worldwide, 74% more. There are three reasons that explain it: the growing demand of the Chinese market, the incentives that have been imposed on local markets and the arrival, at last, of the Tesla Model 3. But even so, electric vehicles barely represent 1.4% of total registrations. In Europe, the electric portion of the pie was slightly lower, at 1.3%.
"Until they are competitive in price electric cars no one is going to buy them. If it costs you 60,000 euros, no matter how green you are, you will not buy it, "says José Antonio Bueno, partner of the YGroup consultancy and specialist in the automotive sector. Felipe Muñoz, analyst of the British Jato, has performed a calculation of electric vehicles in four of the main European markets: Italy, France, Spain and Germany. And his conclusion is that these cars are, on average, 53% more expensive than the rest. The Nissan Leaf, the best-selling electric car last year (38,790 units in Europe), is 40% more expensive than its combustion equivalent. The Volkswagen E-Golf (third in the ranking) is up 39%. And the same happens with the Zoe model of Renault.
"These calculations do not include the discounts that are obtained thanks to the aid set by each government and the promotions of each brand, but despite these rebates, the electric ones continue to be much more expensive", points out Muñoz, who remembers the promises that the manufacturers to reduce those sales prices and democratize a type of vehicle that is still linked with upper-middle classes that are looking for a second vehicle. "It is being more difficult than brands think and it is delaying the development of a greater offer", concludes the analyst.
The countdown has begun to know the future of the Nissan plant in Barcelona. The multinational wants to have a response from workers and administrations about whether they accept the conditions to update the facilities and receive new assignments of vehicles. Now he works below 40% of his capacity. "We expect to grow above the market (50% in 2019)," says Ken Ramírez on the impulse of the electric car, but only states that "we always consider all options." Japan has ensured that the production of the electric van NV200, which is produced exclusively in the Zona Franca de Barcelona, will grow 50% this year, but the factory requires more products to maintain the current staff of 3,700 people.
The Geneva Motor Show, The main European showcase of the sector every year, which was held this week, has once again become a test of strength of the manufacturers. The brands are in a hurry to show that they are on time and are struggling to reduce their average carbon dioxide emissions to avoid the sanctions provided by the European Commission. But the price reduction by car is still far away. Volkswagen expects that in 2025 75% of its sales will still depend on thermal vehicles.
The maximum exponent of the electric race, however, is Volkswagen, which has opened its MEB platform, modular and designed to be used for any type of plug-in vehicle, to any manufacturer willing to pay for its use. Volkswagen tries to create a base that serves as reference to the rest of the sector and, in step, to achieve ways of resources with which to finance the 30,000 million euros that it plans to invest in electrification. Furthermore, only in this way will it achieve the economies of scale necessary to lower the sales prices of its electric car and democratize its use.
"We will make individual mobility CO2 neutral, safe, comfortable and accessible to as many people as possible. Because the MEB even makes the profitable production of emotional vehicles of small series, "said the group's CEO, Herbert Diess, when he presented the initiative.
"We do not comment on what other brands do, but we are glad that they come close to what we have done," Nissan's vice president of sales and marketing, Ken Ramírez, said in Geneva on Tuesday. The Japanese brand landed in the car forum with an announcement: its intention to bring its E-Power technology to Europe, which it has successfully tested in Japan, where it has sold more than 100,000 vehicles. "The electric vehicle responds to a certain number of customers, but if you want to democratize that technology you have to bet also for others," he said. Nissan's E-Power technology is embedded in the hybrid offering. The propulsion comes from the hand of a battery, lower than the usual, that when it needs energy is charged through a thermal engine. It solves the dependence on recharging points but maintains the problem of emissions, although in Japan savings of between 10% and 15% would have been achieved. The multinational wants to bring to Europe that technology installed in an urban SUV, marrying two concepts of success that dominates: the electric motorization and the popular SUV.
Ramírez argues that, in the current stage of the automotive industry and despite the noise in the sector, "the important thing is not to get lost in the diesel-gas debate, but what will happen in other alternatives" and ensures that its hybrid technology it does not suppose that Nissan has doubts about its totally electric bet.