The Government has been urged to do more to drive the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs) as manufacturers gear up to spend billions of pounds on their development.
The call was made by Paul Willcox, chairman of Nissan Europe, at the Nissan Futures 3.0 conference, which included the launch of the new Leaf electric car.
He revealed that more than €4.2 billion (£3.75bn) had been invested by parent company Renault Nissan Alliance in a “massive bet” on an electric future.
He says governments needed to show their support for an emission-free future, citing Norway’s long-term commitment to EVs that has led to zero-emission vehicles having a market share of more than 25%.
For Nissan, 50% of its sales in Norway are electric.
The Norwegian government has led Europe in offering clear motivation for drivers to move to EVs, with tax cuts including the removal of VAT, free city centre parking and access to bus lanes.
Other European governments, including the UK, have said they are committed to carbon-free transport within decades, but specific plans have yet to emerge.
Willcox says: “Many governments across Europe should sit up and take notice; the time is now to act and give people a reason to go electric.
“We believe it is time for these governments to help consumers and businesses make the right choice. All governments need to step up and invest in support.
“Change must come, but it will take more than car companies to make it happen.”
In the next decade, Nissan predicts more than 30% of cars sold in Europe will have some form of electric propulsion.
Currently, electric vehicles, including plug-in hybrids, account for around 1% of the European market, with 200,000 units sold last year, including Norway which accounted for around 25% of the market.
A rise in European sales to 30% of the market within a decade would see zero-emission capable vehicles selling around 4.5 million units annually in a total car market of 15 million.
“We call it the acceleration of electrification,” says Willcox. “We believe we will see the same adoption rates that were seen 100 years ago when the combustion engine car went from gimmick to absolute necessity.
“It is a seismic shift and a giant leap forward that will be pinpointed by historians in years to come as a key moment when things advanced in a new way and reshaped the way we live.
It will have a profound impact, not just on our industry but many others, too. The auto industry ripples will turn into multi-industry waves.”
Willcox says the market will experience “a decade of disruption unlike any other”, where those who embrace the challenge of change will be the ones who come out winning.
Changing fuel choices will be just one part of the challenge businesses face, which also include the appearance of new suppliers and new attitudes to travel, with growing interest in alternatives such as car sharing and autonomous vehicles.