Europe took the first steps toward a massive roll-out of electric vehicles on Wednesday, backing up past rhetoric with plans for pan-European standards that the industry has cried out for.
Without strong standardization work, I think it will be difficult to develop a market for electric cars, European Union industry commissioner Antonio Tajani said as he launched his EU green vehicles strategy.
This is not an abstract concept, it's a set of 40 practical actions, he added.
French carmaker Renault has joined forces with California's Better Place in a project to put electric cars and their charging infrastructure on the roads of Denmark and Israel by 2011.
But critics question whether common standards will be ready in time, or whether investors risk laying down infrastructure that will later have to be torn up and replaced.
It's a big job, it's a difficult job...but it's a challenge that is worth taking, Tajani said when asked if the rules would be ready for 2012.
These aren't just curiosities in motor shows any more. They are being keenly awaited by European citizens. It's important for citizens to be able to cross borders and still charge their cars.
TALK IS CHEAP
Electrical safety standards should be proposed this year, standards for charging the cars should be set by 2011, and crash risks should be reviewed by 2012 -- including risks due to the quietness of the vehicles.
European decision makers need to act quickly, said Marianne Wier of Better Place Denmark. These are already a reality, with 24 models planned to be on the road by 2012.
Better Place is 6 months away from testing their complete solution for charging infrastructure, and 15 months away from a commercial launch in Denmark and Israel, she added.
Car industry group ACEA noted that Europe's major competitors, such as the United States, Japan and China, were already one step ahead.
Environmental groups welcomed the strategy, but questioned whether the EU could turn it into concrete laws without first watering it down. They also said it would be useless without measures to ensure the power comes from green sources.
Without ambitious legislation, Asian and American competitors will get to the chequered flag first, said Greenpeace transport campaigner Franziska Achterberg.
Talk is cheap, said Jos Dings of transport campaigners T&E. The Commission has shown a tendency in the past to lose its nerve when it comes to making legislative proposals, most recently in October when it announced weakened CO2 targets for vans.
Other critics question whether the public will accept the higher costs and limited range of electric cars.
Tajani stressed that his green strategy was technology -neutral and allowed consumers to choose between all options, including hybrid vehicles, hydrogen vehicles and biofuels.
Some European countries have declared themselves in favor of electric cars, such as Spain, but others, such as the UK and Czech Republic favored leaving space for diversification, he added.
Other initiatives in the strategy include plans for fuel efficiency standards for trucks, motorcycles, quad-bikes and for the air-conditioning units of cars.
(Reporting by Pete Harrison, editing by Dale Hudson and Keiron Henderson)