End of an era of European car culture shifting into high gear to go green – News

Market forces and global warming drive change

By Jon Van Housen, Mariella Radaelli

Published: Tue, Jan 18, 2022, 11:37 PM

European haute couture in the field of fashion is renowned the world over, but equally remarkable has been its love for fast and beautiful cars. Celebrated by iconic characters ranging from opera maestro Giuseppe Verdi to Rowan Atkinson, who plays Mr Bean, Europe’s love and craftsmanship for beautifully muscled cars is legendary.

Whether in Monza, where the Italian Grand Prix takes place, or on the French Riviera, in Monte Carlo, Dubai and Beverly Hills, the unmistakable sound of a powerful and well-tuned petrol engine spins heads and excites passers-by.

It always had that effect in an era that began with design geniuses like Karl Benz and then continued with Ettore Bugatti, Ferdinand Porsche, Enzo Ferrari and Ferruccio Lamborghini. All of these men’s names live on in brands that still produce supercars, but the days are clearly numbered for the internal combustion engines that propelled these names to fame.

Much of the roar is being tamed as European automakers go electric. Market forces and global warming are driving change: Ferrari recently experienced a shake-up at the top due to no pure electricity ready for sale, while Tesla prepares to open its massive new factory near Berlin and Volkswagen, the world’s best-selling automotive group. , doubled electric car deliveries last year. And when you say VW, you’re not just talking about modest family cars, but about the owner of legendary Bentley, Audi, Bugatti, Lamborghini and Porsche nameplates.

Wild open-road races such as the Mille Miglia, founded by two dashing young Italian counts in 1927, are already a colorful past due to safety concerns. And for the foreseeable future, the guttural sound of the European supercar will also subside.

As a leader in the fight against global warming, Europe has no choice but to force its dear offspring to change. Taxes and purchase incentives use a carrot and stick approach to encourage the production and purchase of alternative energy vehicles.

Last spring, a coalition of nine EU countries led by the Netherlands and Denmark called on the European Commission to decide on a date to completely ban the internal combustion engine. “Ambitious policies and regulations – such as setting a clear and unambiguous phase-out date for petrol and diesel cars and vans and tougher CO2 standards – will also provide predictability to the automotive sector and boost the transition to zero-emission mobility,” said a statement from the group of nations.

The internal combustion engine is in the crosshairs of the EU’s Green Deal target of becoming climate neutral by 2050. The bloc’s executive arm aims to cut transport emissions by 90% by the middle of the century.

Of the 27 member countries of the European Union, only Estonia did not offer any form of financial incentive for the purchase of an electric vehicle last year. And if socially progressive Norway is taken as an example of what the near future will look like for automakers, the internal combustion engine will indeed soon be a relic of the past.

Only about 8% of new cars sold in the country last year ran solely on conventional gasoline or diesel. Two-thirds of new cars sold were electric, and most of the rest were hybrids. Driven by government benefits that make electric vehicles much more affordable and include extras like exempting electric car owners from certain parking and toll charges, Norway leads the world in consumer acceptance of cars alternative energy.

And much further south, in passionate Italy, you can see just how much the terrain has changed, as developments at Ferrari bear witness to. Before his unexpected death in 2018, Sergio Marchionne, CEO of parent company Fiat Chrysler, called a quiet electric version of the supercar an “almost obscene concept – sound is an integral part of what we sell”.

“The last time I drove a Tesla was almost like turning on the radio. It’s not Ferrari. We won’t do that.

Fast forward to last year when Fiat Chrysler chairman John Elkann, grandson of legendary Fiat boss Gianni Agnelli, announced that Ferrari’s first all-electric vehicle would arrive in the middle of this decade. Just six months before former Ferrari CEO Louis Camilleri said the company would never go fully electric.

Looking perhaps at the results of Porsche, whose pure-electric Taycan overtook the 911 sports car in 2021 as the German brand recorded the biggest sales in its history, Elkann said: “We are very excited about our first all-electric Ferrari that we plan to unveil. in 2025,” adding that the exotic brand “continues to execute (its) electrification strategy in a very disciplined manner.”

Along with vinyl records and paper books, “analog” cars will be a thing of the nostalgic past as the world becomes increasingly digital and electric. While understandable, our hearts don’t always welcome such rational change.

But the powerful internal combustion engine comes out in the most refined and elegant configurations it has ever had. It will likely follow in the famous footsteps of the horse – no longer an everyday means of transportation but rather a plaything of the wealthy who race them and show them off at special events.

Europe’s next generation will likely marvel at the shiny, noisy cars on special display as gray-haired grandfathers regale them with tales of when legends roamed free.

Jon Van Housen and Mariella Radaelli are seasoned international journalists based in Milan

Mary I. Bruner