Bumpy Ride for Electric Cars in Europe

Sales of plug-in 'zero emission' vehicles have stalled in Europe. Patrick T. Fallon / AFP/File
Sales of plug-in 'zero emission' vehicles have stalled in Europe. Patrick T. Fallon / AFP/File
TT

Bumpy Ride for Electric Cars in Europe

Sales of plug-in 'zero emission' vehicles have stalled in Europe. Patrick T. Fallon / AFP/File
Sales of plug-in 'zero emission' vehicles have stalled in Europe. Patrick T. Fallon / AFP/File

Electric cars are a key part of Europe's green transition plans but the road ahead remains littered with obstacles with 10 years to go before a crucial milestone.
Despite the fact that the sale of new petrol and diesel cars will be banned in the European Union as of 2035, sales of plug-in "zero emission" vehicles have stalled in the region in recent months, AFP said.
The market share for electric cars has shrunk from 14.16 percent last year to 12 percent or less since the start of this year, a drop attributed mainly to Germany's decision to abruptly halt subsidies for electric car purchases on Europe's biggest market at the end of 2023.
Sigrid de Vries, director general of the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA), expressed "concern".
Fewer than 30 percent of Europeans say they plan to buy an electric vehicle (EV), according to the ACEA, and more than half refuse to pay more than 35,000 euros ($37,750) for a car, a price level offering few EVs.
The "2035 deadline... is really just around the corner, especially when you talk production cycles," de Vries told an EV conference last week in Lillestrom, Norway.
"We need to go from 15 percent (zero-emission cars) to 100 percent in about just around 10 years," she said.
At the end of 2023, EVs passed the "tipping point" of five percent -- considered the point of mass adoption -- in 31 countries around the world, according to the Bloomberg news agency.
But only two-thirds of the EU's 27 member states have surpassed this level.
Cars are Europeans' primary mode of transport, and account for 15 percent of Europe's CO2 emissions.
Making vehicles emissions-free is therefore essential if the EU wants to meet its climate commitments.
Norway, a non-EU member -- and also a major oil and gas producer -- is a leader in EV adoption.
Led by Tesla, electric vehicles accounted for 90 percent of new car registrations in Norway in the first quarter thanks to generous tax incentives.
The country aims to reach the 100 percent mark by 2025.
Carmakers like Volkswagen and Volvo have already ended sales of their combustion models in Norway.
See-sawing sales
Elsewhere, the industry's electrification is largely sluggish.
Britain has pushed back by five years its ban on the sale of new combustion cars, now expected in 2035, and many see this target as unrealistic to reach in Europe.
But Nissan, one of the first traditional carmakers to roll out a plug-in with its Leaf model, says sales that yo-yo are not a concern.
"It see-saws and it will always be like that," Guillaume Pelletreau, Nissan's vice president of electrification and connected services, told AFP.
"There was a really strong start to the wave of electrification in the past two years and now we are starting to normalize the process a bit," he said.
"We see nonetheless a clear upwards trend."
Volkswagen, Stellantis and Renault plan to introduce new, less expensive electric models in coming months, but they are also relying on their hybrid models to boost sales.
One of the main hurdles cited by industry experts is the difficulty to roll out the necessary EV infrastructure quickly and broadly.
More than half of the EU's charging stations are found in just two countries: Germany and the Netherlands, according to the ACEA.
In Spain for example, where people replace their cars only every 14 years on average, 65 percent of owners park them in the street, making charging a challenge, said Isabel Gorgoso, head of "new mobility" at energy group Cepsa.
"If you think about Norway 10 years ago, then you have Spain now," she said.
Other obstacles cited are the heaps of EU regulations for carmakers -- up to nine new ones per year -- and ever-changing national policies, which could be exacerbated further by rising support for Europe's populist movements, which are generally climate-skeptic.
"With high-stake European elections around the corner, what happens in the next few months could really determine the fate of Europe's vehicle industry," de Vries said.



One Tech Tip: Want to Turn off Meta AI? You Can't — But There are Some Workarounds

The logo of Meta Platforms' business group is seen in Brussels, Belgium December 6, 2022. (Reuters)
The logo of Meta Platforms' business group is seen in Brussels, Belgium December 6, 2022. (Reuters)
TT

One Tech Tip: Want to Turn off Meta AI? You Can't — But There are Some Workarounds

The logo of Meta Platforms' business group is seen in Brussels, Belgium December 6, 2022. (Reuters)
The logo of Meta Platforms' business group is seen in Brussels, Belgium December 6, 2022. (Reuters)

If you use Facebook, WhatsApp or Instagram, you've probably noticed a new character pop up answering search queries or eagerly offering tidbits of information in your feeds, with varying degrees of accuracy.
It's Meta AI, and it's here to help, at least according to Meta Platforms' CEO Mark Zuckerberg, who calls it “the most intelligent AI assistant that you can freely use”, said The Associated Press.
The chatbot can recommend local restaurants, offer more information on something you see in a Facebook post, search for airline flights or generate images in the blink of an eye. If you're chatting with friends to plan a night out, you can invite it into your group conversation by typing @MetaAI, then ask it to recommend, say, cocktail bars.
Meta’s AI tool has been integrated into chat boxes and search bars throughout the tech giant’s platforms. The assistant appears, for example, at the top of your chat list on Messenger. Ask it questions about anything or to “imagine” something and it will generate a picture or animation.
As with any new technology, there are, of course, hiccups, including bizarre exchanges when the chatbots first started engaging with real people. One joined a Facebook moms’ group to talk about its gifted child. Another tried to give away nonexistent items to confused members of a Buy Nothing forum.
Meta AI hasn't been universally welcomed. Here are some tips if you want to avoid using it:
CAN I TURN IT OFF? Some Facebook users don't like the chatbot, complaining in online forums that they're tired of having AI foisted on them all the time or that they just want to stick with what they know. So what if you don't want Meta AI butting in every time you search for something or scroll through your social feeds? Well, you might need a time machine. Meta and other tech companies are in an AI arms race, churning out new language models and persuading — some might say pressuring — the public to use them.
The bad news is there's no one button to turn off Meta AI on Facebook, Instagram, Messenger or WhatsApp. However, if you want to limit it, there are some (imperfect) workarounds.
MUTE...SORT OF On the Facebook mobile app, tap the “search” button. You may get a prompt to “Ask Meta AI anything.” Tap the blue triangle on the right, then the blue circle with an “i” inside it. Here, you'll see a “mute” button, with options to silence the chatbot for 15 minutes or longer, or “Until I change it.” You can do the same on Instagram.
Nonetheless, muting doesn't get rid of Meta AI completely. Meta AI's circle logo might still appear where the search magnifying glass used to be — and tapping on it will take you to the Meta AI field. This is now the new way to search in Meta, and just as with Google's AI summaries, the responses will be generated by AI.
I asked the chatbot about searching Facebook without Meta AI results.
“Meta AI aims to be a helpful assistant and is in the search bar to assist with your questions," it responded. Then it added, "You can't disable it from this experience, but you can tap the search button after writing your query and search how you normally would.”
Then I asked a (human) Meta spokesperson.
“You can search how you normally would and choose to engage with a variety of results — ones from Meta AI or others that appear as you type,” the spokesperson said in a statement. "And when interacting with Meta AI, you have access to real-time information without having to leave the app you’re using thanks to our search partnerships.”
Like an over-eager personal assistant, Meta AI also pops up under posts on your Facebook news feed, offering more information about what’s discussed in the post — such as the subject of a news article. It’s not possible to disable this feature, so you'll just have to ignore it.
USE OLD SCHOOL FACEBOOK Tech websites have noted that one surefire way to avoid Facebook's AI assistant is to use the social network's stripped-down mobile site, mbasic.facebook.com. It's aimed at people in developing countries using older phones on slower internet connections. The basic site has a retro feel that looks crude compared to the current version, and it looks even worse on desktop browsers, but it still works on a rudimentary level and without AI.
OTHER COUNTRIES Meta AI is so far only available in the United States and 13 other countries including Australia, Canada, Ghana, Jamaica, Malawi, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe. So if you don't live in any of those places, you don't have to worry about the chatbot because you don't get to use it. At least not yet.