GLASGOW – At least six major carmakers – including Ford, Mercedes-Benz, General Motors and Volvo – and 31 national governments pledged on Wednesday to work to phase out sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040 worldwide, and by 2035 in ” leading markets. “
But some of the world’s largest carmakers, including Toyota, Volkswagen and the Nissan-Renault alliance, did not agree to the promise, which is not legally binding. And the governments of the United States, China and Japan, three of the largest car markets, also abstained.
The announcement, which was given during international climate talks here, was hailed by climate activists as another sign that the days of the internal combustion engine may soon be numbered. Electric vehicles continue to set new global sales records every year, and major car companies have recently begun investing tens of billions of dollars to rebuild their factories and acquire new battery-powered cars and light trucks.
“Letting these big players make these commitments, even if we have to make sure they follow through, is really important,” said Margo Oge, a former senior US air quality officer who now advises both environmental groups and car companies. “It really tells us that these companies and their boards accept that the future is electric.”
The car manufacturers who signed the promise accounted for about a quarter of global sales in 2019.
Countries that joined the coalition include the United Kingdom, Canada, India, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland and Sweden. The addition of India was particularly remarkable, as it is the world’s fourth largest car market and has not previously committed itself to eliminating emissions from cars on a specific timeline.
Other countries that for the first time promise to sell only zero-emission vehicles by a set date are included Turkey, Croatia, Ghana and Rwanda.
California and Washington State also signed the pledge. Last year, Governor Gavin Newsom of California signed an executive order stating that only new zero-emission vehicles would be sold in the state by 2035, although regulators have not yet issued rules to do so. Washington had not previously made such a formal promise.
The agreement states that car manufacturers will “work to reach 100 percent zero-emission sales of new cars and vans in leading markets by 2035 or earlier, supported by a business strategy that is in line with this ambition, as we help build customer demand. “
Zero-emission vehicles can include either plug-in electric vehicles or hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, although the latter have struggled to gain market share. Electric cars can still indirectly produce emissions if, for example, they are charged with power from plants that burn coal or natural gas. However, they are generally considered cleaner than vehicles with internal combustion engines and do not create pollution from the end pipes.
Two dozen car fleet operators, including Uber and LeasePlan, also joined the coalition, promising to operate only zero-emission vehicles by 2030, “or earlier where markets allow.”
Worldwide, transportation accounts for about one-fifth of humanity’s carbon dioxide emissions, which are responsible for climate change, with just under half of what comes from passenger cars such as cars and vans.
In recent years, spurred on by global warming and air pollution concerns, governments around the world – including China, the US and the EU – have begun to subsidize powerful electric vehicles and introduce stricter emission standards for new petrol and diesel cars.
The price of lithium-ion batteries has also fallen by about 80 percent since 2013, according to BloombergNEF, an energy research group, which makes electric vehicles increasingly competitive with traditional internal combustion motor vehicles, although many consumers are still wary of the new technology due to concerns such as the availability of charging stations.
“We have the technology to make clean road transport a reality, and today it is clear that we have the willpower to do so in the next decade,” said Nigel Topping, who was appointed by the British government to the UN to be a “High level champion of climate action.”
Some of the car manufacturers who signed the agreement had already promised to clean up the cars they produce. GM said in January that it aimed to stop selling new petrol-powered cars and light trucks by 2035 and will turn to battery-powered vehicles. Volvo had said that they expected the car range to be fully electric by 2030.
But the promise seemed to oblige some of the signatories to do more than they had previously promised. Ford, which this year introduced an electric version of its best-selling F-150 pickup, had previously only said that they expected 40 percent of the global vehicle mix to be electric by 2030.
“We are now moving to deliver cutting-edge electric vehicles for the many instead of the few,” said Cynthia Williams, global director of sustainability at Ford.
The other two car manufacturers that signed the promise were BYD, a Chinese car manufacturer that has made major inroads in selling electric cars in Europe, as well as the Jaguar Land Rover.
Some of the major car manufacturers that did not sign the agreement still invest heavily in electric car technology. Volkswagen, which six years ago confessed to rigging its diesel cars to hide illegally high emissions, has since outlined plans to spend tens of billions of dollars on building six battery factories, installing a global network of charging stations and rolling out more than 80 new electric models by 2025.
Nicolai Laude, a spokesman for Volkswagen, said that while the German carmaker was committed to a rapid shift towards electric vehicles, it did not join the new promise because the global nature of the business made it aware that “developing regions themselves at different speeds combined with different local conditions need different roads ”to zero emissions.
Toyota, the world’s best-selling carmaker in 2020, was also particularly lacking in the list of signatories, although this year it announced plans to sell 15 electric car models around the world by 2025. The Japanese carmaker has been more careful with electric car technology, continuing to focus on alternatives as hydrogen-powered fuel cell vehicles.
Toyota did not immediately comment.