EU’s ban on petrol and diesel cars could leave Poland behind

Jakub Faryś
Jakub Faryś, President of the Polish Automotive Industry Association

In 2035, it will not be possible to register combustion engine cars in the EU. In wealthier countries like Germany, France, or Spain, there will be a lot of electric vehicles, but a large part of used combustion engine cars will go to poorer markets, including Poland. Jakub Faryś, President of the Polish Automotive Industry Association, says we must consider how to prevent Poland from becoming a “museum” of Europe. He emphasizes that transitioning to zero emissions will be a challenge, especially for smaller companies and individual customers, with high prices of electric vehicles being the main barrier. There will also be significant changes for domestic manufacturers of parts and components for the automotive industry. Vehicle manufacturers have been ready for 2035 for some time.

In 2035, we will face a new reality where all newly registered and marketed vehicles must be zero-emission. From the automotive industry’s viewpoint, this production area is clear. Currently, most manufacturers offer such vehicles, and intense work is underway to be ready by 2035. However, the market, particularly customers, remains uncertain. Factors like COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, broken supply chains, and soaring raw material prices have significantly increased car costs. Currently, the average price of a combustion engine car in Poland is around 180-190 thousand PLN, and an electric one is about 260-270 thousand PLN, which is very high for the average user, says Jakub Faryś.

A study published last year, the “New Mobility Barometer,” shows that 42.4% of Polish drivers are currently interested in and seriously considering purchasing an electric vehicle within the next three years (mainly Generation Z and millennials). This percentage was only 12% in 2017. However, the main concern for potential electric vehicle buyers is their high price.

There should be an expert discussion involving politicians, the industry, and the public on how to approach this major change to protect the climate, offer environmentally friendly cars, and maintain mobility for society. Conditions must be created where this new automotive sector is affordable for the average user and companies, as they account for about 70-75% of new vehicle registrations in Poland.

While large corporations will easily adapt to these changes, small and medium-sized enterprises and micro-businesses may face more significant challenges.

The simplest solution might be to maintain or increase subsidies for electric vehicles. Currently, Poland offers a subsidy of 18.5 thousand PLN for businesses and individuals, 27 thousand PLN for individuals with a Large Family Card, plus up to 70 thousand PLN for commercial vehicles. The increasing number of delivery vehicles with green plates on Polish roads is because it’s economically viable due to these subsidies. However, if these subsidies were removed, there might be a decline in electric vehicle registrations, as seen in Norway and Germany.

The “Motobarometer 2023” study by Exact Systems reveals that over half (51%) of the Polish automotive industry believes that electric vehicle prices – the most crucial determinant of purchase – will never align with combustion engine vehicle prices. One in four respondents thinks this will only happen by 2035.

Transitioning to zero emissions has another aspect to consider. In 2035, when registering combustion engine cars will no longer be possible, a lot of electric vehicles will appear in richer countries, and many used combustion engine cars, emitting harmful substances, will go to poorer markets, including Poland. We must think about how to prevent this scenario where Poland becomes a “museum” of Europe, says Jakub Faryś.

In Poland, fully electric vehicles (BEVs) accounted for only 3.6% of all newly registered passenger cars in the first half of this year. By the end of September, there were nearly 45.2 thousand fully electric passenger cars registered in Poland (and just over 5.2 thousand delivery and heavy vehicles). However, the latest PSPA report “Polish EV Outlook” suggests that the Polish e-mobility sector will accelerate significantly in the coming years, predicting nearly 170 thousand newly registered (domestic market and import) fully electric vehicles (passenger and delivery) by 2030.

Transitioning to zero emissions is a multifaceted topic, including social aspects. Solutions should be found that are best for the automotive industry, job and tax revenue, and average users, says the expert.

The PZPM President points out that the automotive industry has long been preparing for new regulations and will be ready to end combustion engine car production by 2035. Most manufacturers already have a significant portfolio of zero-emission vehicles, and many brands plan to phase out combustion engines even before the EU’s deadline. Data from Transport & Environment show that BMW Group’s Mini and Rolls-Royce, Mercedes-Benz, Renault, Stellantis group’s Alfa Romeo and Opel, Ford, Lexus, and Volvo intend to sell only electric vehicles by 2030. The “Motobarometer 2023” study shows that 63% of automotive plants in Poland are already engaged in activities or research in the field of electromobility.

Poland is one of the most important players on the European automotive map. Depending on the criteria, it ranks fourth, fifth, or sixth in terms of vehicle, part, and component production. However, the challenge is that much of this production is dedicated to traditional combustion engine vehicles. When new types of propulsion come in, it will be a significant challenge for enterprises. For example, a company producing seats can easily adapt, but one producing exhausts will have to completely change its profile, notes Jakub Faryś. This is a challenge not only for manufacturers but also for the government and all market players, as the automotive sector is the second-largest in our economy. Actions must be taken now to ensure it survives in good condition and continues to develop after 2035.

The automotive industry accounts for 8% of GDP and 13.5% of annual exports. Total employment in this sector reaches 490 thousand people, about 7.6% of all industrial workers. The challenges facing this industry in the coming years will determine its future. On the other hand, according to PSPA data, global investments in zero-emission transport are immense: estimated at around 53 trillion dollars by 2050. With proper regulations and support, part of this investment could come to Poland, creating new business opportunities. Poland already has several advantages that could make it a leading production hub in the European electromobility sector in the coming years. Besides know-how and experience in component production, it is also one of the global leaders in lithium-ion battery production. According to BloombergNEF, Poland currently holds second place worldwide, accounting for 6% of global battery production (73 GWh in 2022).

2035 is still several years away. During this transitional period, we can still offer combustion engine cars, hybrids, or other vehicles, such as hydrogen cars. However, it’s crucial not to unnecessarily spend money during this period, and here I refer to the new Euro 7 standard. It will require significant investment without drastically changing the situation in terms of ecology or air purity, only improving it slightly. Therefore, it would be better to spend that money on zero emissions directly, evaluates the expert.

In mid-October, the European Parliament adopted changes delaying the implementation of the Euro 7 emission standard. For passenger cars and delivery vehicles with a total permissible mass of up to 3.5 t, the new standard will apply from July 2030 (the original deadline proposed by the EC was the beginning of 2025), and for buses and heavy vehicles, two years later.