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The automotive sector is getting worried about the 2040 deadline

In the first ten months of  this year 29,826 cars  were registered in  Malaga province, an  increase of 9.9 per cent.
In the first ten months of this year 29,826 cars were registered in Malaga province, an increase of 9.9 per cent. / Álvaro Cabrera
  • Local dealers are questioning the government's plans to ban the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles, saying it is causing uncertainty and confusion among buyers

The car industry is fuming. Successive announcements from the Spanish government about a rise in the price of diesel in 2019 and a ban on the sale of combustion engines from 2040 as part of the fight against climate change, have sounded the alarm in a sector of the economy which represents ten per cent of Spain's GDP and nine per cent of employment. In recent weeks dealers and manufacturers have been complaining about the "uncertainty and confusion" created by these situations, which they say is already having an effect on the market.

"People come to the dealers but they don't know what to buy. It's a complete mess," says Carlos Oliva, the president of the Malaga Automotive Association (AMA), which comprises 200 companies including official dealers, workshops and showrooms who employ 3,000 people in total. He says the scandals about diesel engines some years ago tilted the balance in favour of petrol-fueled cars, "and now with the tax harmonisation they are proposing this could be the end for diesel vehicles".

In Malaga province, in the first ten months of this year, 29,826 vehicles were registered, of which 16,449 were petrol and 11,036 diesel. This is an increase of 9.9 per cent compared with the same period in 2017. Now, the sector is warning that in November the number of new registrations fell by 22 per cent, on top of a nationwide reduction in October (6.6 per cent, 88,410 vehicles). In fact, September brought to an end 29 months of consecutive increases all over the country, coinciding with the new European regulation regarding emissions coming into force, which caused an increase in operations in the previous months.

"There is a certain demonisation of diesel, because of the scandals about manipulation of contaminatory emission levels, although more people are now realising that a diesel car can have a more intensive use," says Oliva, who in any case believes that the Spanish automotive sector is not prepared for complete 'decarbonisation' within 30 years.

"The government's announcements are all well and good, but they are forgetting that in other countries, like Germany, they have organised one billion euros of investment plans to encourage the change of model, and provide help for people buying electric or hybrid vehicles," he says.

Sources at Faconauto, the federation of dealers' associations, are concerned that the government's intention of banning registration and sales of traditional combustion and hybrid vehicles in 2040 will reduce the number of new registrations even further. "It's bad news for the sector and for the economy," they say, and they want the government to rejuvenate the ageing Spanish vehicle fleet in the short term, as part of its plan to decarbonise mobility. "They can't just give out this information without the sector knowing about it, and without specific and exact measures in mind," they complain.

The government has also come under strong criticism from manufacturers. The Association of Automobile and Truck Manufacturers (Anfac) flatly rejects the move, considering its "objectives excessive and its deadlines accelerated". Sources there also consider that "in practice, this means going against the principle of technological neutrality which is defended to the utmost by the European Union," they say.

Transport sector

Those in the transport sector are also critical of the government's plans. Borja de Torres, president of the Acotral firm and vice-president of the federation, says it is "difficult to evaluate the proposal because it would have effects ten years before coming into force and it is difficult to know whether at that time there will be alternatives to diesel which are efficient in economic, social and environmental terms".

In his opinion, "someone who wants to invest in a diesel vehicle in 2030 will know that in 2040 it will have no value" and that, he says, will affect consumption and the industry.

"I believe that a progressive implantation with assistance would be much more suitable. Also, there are a lot of matters to sort out, like charging systems and batteries (in Spain there are only about 5,000 charging posts, compared with 12,000 in Paris alone), the model and energy costs, the autonomy of the vehicles... all this needs to be resolved before setting a date," he says.

The lack of public assistance for the sector to buy vehicles is another common complaint. "There has been none for more than three years now, although those are more profitable for the State because it recovers the money through the taxes paid on registration and IVA," says Carlos Oliva.

With regard to assistance for electric vehicles, compared with the plans in other countries, Spain has only invested 74.5 million euros in the past five years, and last year there was none.

Despite this avalanche of criticism, the Minister of Energy Transition, Teresa Ribera, defends the draft plans. She says they are reasonable and would mean full implantation of electric vehicles in 22 years.

"Spain cannot be at the back of the queue in the process towards which the whole EU is heading. The worst that we can find is that a tsunami passes over us," she said in a recent TV interview.

new vehicles were registered in Malaga province in 2017, an increase of 9.7 per cent.

electric vehicles have been sold in Malaga so far this year, the highest number since 2014.

charging points exist in the whole of Spain, whereas in Paris alone there are 12,000.