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Finnish auto sector targets 25% of new cars using electricity or natural gas by 2025

The government and the automotive industry have agreed on an array of measures intended to cut transport emissions.

Mies tankkaa biokaasua
The long-term climate benefits of biofuels remain unclear. Image: Markku Ojala / AOP

The Finnish government has penned an agreement with the main auto industry group, as part of several measures aimed at halving road traffic carbon emissions by 2030.

The Central Organisation for Motor Trades and Repairs (AKL) and the state unveiled their Green Deal climate agreement on Thursday. It is intended to lower the average carbon emissions from new cars by four percent annually.

The non-binding pact aims to reduce the average age of vehicles on the road while encouraging consumers to buy low-emission or alternative-fuel cars.

Finland only has one significant car manufacturer, Valmet Automotive in Uusikaupunki. It currently produces three Mercedes-Benz models as well as electric vehicle solutions such as battery packs, having produced several electric car models in the past.

More biofuel and fossil gas

Transport Minister Anne Berner said low-emission or alternative-fuel cars will become "mainstream". Under the plan, a quarter of all new cars sold will be electric or run on natural gas by 2025. Natural gas, a fossil fuel, has lower carbon and nitrogen oxide emissions than conventional petrol or diesel. However its production releases methane and other emissions.

A 2016 study commissioned by the European Federation for Transport and Environment found that "increased use of natural gas in road transport is largely ineffective in reducing greenhouse gases or air pollution" and that "compressed natural gas-powered cars (CNG) offer almost no extra air pollution benefits compared to petrol cars".

The agreement is also intended to expand the use of biofuels for heavy road transport such as lorries and buses – although experts also disagree on the overall climate benefits of biofuels.

Furthermore, the plan aims to lower the age at which cars are taken off the road and sent to recycling by 1.5 percent annually, based on the assumption that new cars of comparable size tend to have lower emissions.

Ambitious plans for last 4 months of legislative term

Car dealers promise to more prominently display low-emission or alternative-fuel cars in showrooms, and to provide lower-emission models as temporary replacements while customers’ vehicles are in for maintenance.

The state meanwhile will further the goals of the agreement in its own procurement decisions and by supporting the purchase of fully-electric vehicles.

It also pledges to make tax changes to encourage the uptake of zero-emission and low-emission cars – although it is difficult to see how much the current centre-right coalition could accomplish before Parliament wraps up its work in mid-March. The legislative term ends before elections in April.

Last spring, the government abandoned a plan floated by Berner to subsidise the purchase of electric bikes after a backlash.

Edit: Story updated at 5.00pm on 23 November, 2018 to reflect that the government's agreement with the auto industry is one of a number of measures aimed at halving vehicle emissions by 2030.

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