In spite of Europe’s ‘second thoughts’, the shift to electric mobility will be inexorable for a certain type of transport such as light and medium mobility, short-distance, last-mile logistics, and for construction and work machinery, including urban hygiene and waste collection vehicles, without compromising the production and employment aspect of Europe and Italy.
The European Commission’s decision to postpone the planned halt in sales of endothermic-powered vehicles from 2035 has opened up discussion between those in favour and those against. In particular, between no to electric and yes to electric. In reality, radical positions on both sides do not seem to be agreeable. While the change of decision by some states (including Italy) that had initially expressed a positive opinion was surprising, the Italian government’s position, namely that a sustainable transition must be planned to avoid negative repercussions in terms of production and employment, and that states must be able to choose the best way to reduce emissions and not exclude routes other than electric, is also acceptable.
Good. But it seems fairer to distinguish between the different uses of vehicles or, rather, between the different types of mobility, in particular by distance, by type of transport, etc. It is undoubtedly the case that on long road journeys (whether by passenger cars or goods transport trucks) full-electric is in danger of being uncompetitive, especially in terms of charging systems and times. But it is equally unquestionable that on short distances of passenger cars and light goods transport vehicles full-electric is clearly ahead on all fronts of convenience: economic, environmental, but also productive, employment and social.
Let’s see how.
Many Italian companies have been embarking on this path for more than a year now, and many sectors are ready for a mobility revolution precisely in a ‘full electric’ key: we are talking about companies that deal with last-mile logistics and therefore with planned transport on standardised routes and volumes of known and programmable material (parcels, door-to-door waste, foodstuffs, etc.).
Electric vehicle technology, in particular the batteries that allow these vehicles certain distances and load capacities in light of the mass limitations dictated by the Highway Code, has to date allowed the development of light and medium vehicle models (we are talking about vehicle categories up to N2, i.e. < 12 t) whose performance is such that they do not require compromises or modifications on services as carried out by equivalent endothermic vehicles.
On the contrary, for the same performance, electrically driven vehicles in these categories, in addition to the well-known environmental benefits, also bring consolidated economic benefits linked to savings in both maintenance and fuel: while a traditional car consumes about 5 litres of fuel for a total cost of about €9 to cover 100 km, an electric car consumes about 13 kWh at a cost of about €4.5, so half!
This saving increases further if the vehicle is part of an integrated solar energy infrastructure scheme. These are not utopias but currently feasible configurations for all production facilities that have available areas (e.g. warehouses, car parks) where they can install a photovoltaic system and vehicle charging stations.
One often hears talk about the environmental footprint of the electric vehicle production process, boasting CO2 emissions that are even higher than those associated with burning fossil fuels; in reality, there have been studies for several years now that prove the exact opposite: According to a study by the European Commission’s DG Climate Action, the CO2 emissions over the entire life cycle of an electric car (from production through use to disposal), given the average European electric mix, are 55 per cent lower than those of an endothermic vehicle of the same weight and power powered by petrol, and 47 per cent lower in the case of a diesel vehicle. These differences increase further in a scenario of increased electricity generation from renewable sources.
Delving into the end-of-life aspects of electric vehicles, and in particular their batteries, opens up an interesting business opportunity for Europe and Italy: the study carried out by Motus-E, Strategy& and Milan Polytechnic, quantifies the potential revenues from the recovery of electric car batteries already found in Italy at 400-600 million euros per year. In addition to creating a whole new supply chain, with all the associated economic, employment and environmental benefits, recycling these batteries also means becoming more independent in the extraction and processing of the relevant raw materials, being able to leverage resources that are ‘at home’ and already refined, ready to be fed back into the production process.
Ultimately, the transition to electromobility will be inexorable, especially for light and medium mobility, short-haul, last-mile logistics, standardised routes, volumes of known and programmable material, and construction and work machinery, among which urban hygiene and waste collection vehicles are rightfully included.