Stellantis CEO Says Electrification Advanced by Politicians, Not the Industry

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
stellantis ceo says electrification advanced by politicians not the industry

Despite Stellantis making formal announcements that it will be investing 30 billion euros ($34 billion USD) into its novel electrification strategy, CEO Carlos Tavares has been making it sound as if the automaker’s plan was crafted under duress. He’s been telling European media that the widespread adoption of EVs is primarily being pushed by politicians who are ignoring the environmental risks and logistical shortcomings.

“What is clear is that electrification is a technology chosen by politicians, not the industry,” he said told the press this week.

He likewise stressed that the bans being proposed for internal combustion engine vehicles are fundamentally transforming the industry’s existing facilities and supply chains. Europe has suggested banning the sale of new internal combustion vehicles by 2035. Canada has a similar strategy, creating a “mandatory target” that would require all new light-duty vehicles sold within the country to be zero-emissions by 2035.

As politics are often fluid, the above aren’t really guarantees. But the organized push for mandating emissions-free driving (at least in terms of what comes out of the vehicle itself) is undoubtedly growing and automakers are complying in advance. Tavares told Les Echos, Handelsblatt, Corriere della Sera, and El Mundo this was exacerbating supply chain problems by creating an industrywide shakeup. On a longer timeline, he worried that it would result in the sudden collapse of automotive jobs and product lineups that are not aligned with consumer needs or the realities of the market.

Then there’s the matter of how green the green movement really is. We’ve talked about the negative aspects of battery production before — everything from child-labor issues to the fight for raw materials and the risks associated with volatile waste disposal. But it’s fairly rare to hear it coming from an automotive executive that just promised to spend several billion dollars developing EVs.

“Given the current European energy mix, an electric car needs to drive 70,000 kilometers (43,496 miles) to compensate for the carbon footprint of manufacturing the battery alone and to start catching up with a light hybrid vehicle, which costs half as much as an EV,” Tavares told reporters.

Automotive News likewise reported Tavares as stressing the finances of the situation. If EVs remain priced well above their internal-combustion counterparts, they’ll never achieve mass appeal. He also noted that it’s the same situation for manufacturers investing heavily into electrification and competing for natural resources, linking it to earlier promises he made not to shut down factories located in Europe. Though the money problem wasn’t wholly tied to EVs, as the region has some of the highest labor costs around.

From AN:

“I generally hold on to the promises I make, but we also need to remain competitive,” he said, citing in particular production costs in Italy which were “significantly higher, sometimes the double of those at plants in other European countries,” mainly due to “exorbitant” energy prices.

Pointing to Rome, where the government is working to bring down industrial costs, he said: “It takes some time for the measures to be implemented. We will discuss this again at the end of 2022.”

While I’m inclined to agree with Tavares that EVs are being crammed down our collective throats faster than seems prudent, there are lots of items at play here. When PSA Group joined with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) to form Stellantis, the latter company really hadn’t expressed much interest in electrification. Handelsblatt also noted (in German) that FCA has only been able to comply with European requirements for CO2 emissions because it had purchased carbon credits from Tesla for several billion euros. Those are set to expire this year, making it so the company will have to comply with the region’s stringent regulations or pay the EU sizable fines.

Tesla also exists as a partial exception to Tavares’ claim that the industry is being forced into electrification. While the government incentives and regulatory fines absolutely benefit the brand, it emerged organically to see if all-electric vehicles could be sold in the United States. But even Tesla CEO Elon Musk has started worrying that continued government involvement runs the risk of favoritism and stifling innovation. He believes that the technology is mature enough to let the existing U.S. tax credit scheme (which his company can no longer take advantage of) continue playing out and opposes the Biden administration’s preproposal to expand them under the now-stalled Build Back Better Act.

There are also concerns about how much leverage the swap to EVs would give China. The nation is currently the undisputed global king of producing the components necessary for lithium-ion batteries. As of 2019, China was responsible for over 60 percent of the world’s cathode materials going into electric cars, 83 percent of anodes, and held a 73 percent market share of all cell manufacturing. Considering how poorly having semiconductor chip production localized in Asia has worked out for Western automakers, it’s not unthinkable a similar situation could play out with batteries.

However, none of that precludes electrification. The above problems are less about EVs being bad than the ham-fisted nature in which they’re being advanced. Tavares is largely correct in asserting that government involvement is fundamentally changing the industry without giving much consideration as to what could go wrong. But it likewise seems that a portion of his gripes are based upon Stellantis not being quite so well positioned as some of its rivals.

That said, Tavares was the man responsible for cautiously introducing the Nissan Leaf to the Americas — back before the segment had much in the way of competition.

“We are prepared to make a profitable business once it reaches a certain level,” he said in 2009. “We don’t expect to start making a profit immediately, but we certainly see a business case. We are shifting completely from internal combustion, and we can’t expect that electric vehicles will have the same profitability that gas cars have after 100 years of development.”

Considering that it took Tesla (the most successful EV manufacturer in history) until 2021 to get its finances in the black without leaning on its sale of emissions credits to other automakers, the dude might be onto something.

[Image: Frederic Legrand COMEO/Shutterstock]

Join the conversation
5 of 118 comments
  • Mopar4wd Mopar4wd on Jan 20, 2022

    Nuclear power is the craziest thing to me. Like most sources of power involve a lot of input for the output. Nuclear power submarine, needs to be refueled once in 42 years.

    • See 2 previous
    • Sobhuza Trooper Sobhuza Trooper on Jan 20, 2022

      @FreedMike What to do with the waste? We have a place. It's called "Yucca Mountain" and the only reason it's not used starts with the word Senator and ends with the word Reid. (They claim it's because they can't guarantee the repository over XXXX years, but they pretty much make up a number and assert it as if they actually ran the tests.) They need to claim there's no solution because to admit there is one means they don't have any more arguments left.

  • Boxerman Boxerman on Jan 22, 2022

    The car companies are looking for government money to compete with tesla a product none of the existing players could have produced for decades even if they tried. Now its clear that a tesla is the first viable and remotely desirable electric the stampede is on. The big companies sorta love the idea of manufacturing with less labor higher margins and a global consumer base that will need to redeploy tot he new tech. As a car guy, its simply a fact that for the road a good electric powertrain is simply superior. Yes refueling on long trips is an issue. yes power generation is a major issue. Yes the toxic pollution related to elctrics is an issue, as is child labor. No electrics are not the answer to "climate change'. However driving an electric is like going from a DC3 to a jetliner, its simply better for human road transport. Yes it exports the pollution. Thats great too. My air was so clean during the initial lock downs when no one drove why wouldnt I want that for little cost and a betetr vehicle for "most" road use. ice cars also make lots of noise. So with electrics my little suburban paradise will be cleaner and quieter. Ill have less maintenance hassle and will start every day with a full tank from my home charger. With solar panels and treating the grid as battery my electricity costs will go way down too. yes intial costs will be more, but my elctric car will easily last 200-300k miles and that acceleration and smoothness is both addictive and better.. In the future many wont be able to afford cars cause they'll cost more, you also cant really charge an electric in urban environments, hell you cant even park there, but thats fine cause urban people dont like cars and they say theyll be happier on mass transit. Also threes not enough electricity for them to charge. Frankly I dont think moms minivan should be burning something as precious as petroleum fuel, she only cares it moves forwards not how. That leaves more petroleum for the rest of us. As for global warming or climate change as its called now because maybe its not really warming so much. 7 or 9 Billion people are going to alter a lot, its way better than freezing in cave. Frankly we should be more worried about plastic waste all sports of chemical nasties, and online delivery packaging. Instead "climate change" is a simple creed to follow and abosrbs 95% of enviromental bandwidth, so its actually destructive to a better environment due to neglect of other issues. For the sake of discussion. Lets assume humans one way or the other are contributing to warming. Why do we assume the warming now called climate change is bad. Change can be good. Worst case scenario over 300 years 5% of the landmass goes under water, thats where 50% now live cause humans live near coats. That means gradualy new citiesneed to be built creating new economic vibrancy. Assuming the worst the next ice age is delayed by 100 years. its all so irrelevant, c02 is nbeither toxic not along term danger to life or health. There are 1000s of ways were ireperably polluting, c02 is not one of these. in reality warmer air means more evaporation which is a countervailing cooling effect and also leads to more rain. The Shara was once verdant. Climate change to the extent its happening will lead to a more verdant planet. the planet itself will fund a new balance and stasis long before the worst predictions come true. Its all good cause in its own way its forcing us to find alternatives to what is essentialy a finite energy source., Polticiands are sanctimonious ego driven fools driven by votes. In Europe they pushed diesel because less C02 polled well but polluted their air 100 times over. Show me sustainable ethical mining of components for batteries, Show me how those are refined somewhere otehr than China because its so polluting. Shoe me in black and white how the grid will work and where the power will come from other than Nukes since thats also a non starter. Show me how peopel will be able to afford electricity let alone cars. Were smart we can predict all these rpoblems, surely before runnign down a road we shoudl tackle them comprehensively as part of a larger plan. As for me, i think a tesla is simply a superior transport module. It also makes my immediate enviroment cleaner and nicer. With cad cam 3 d printing computer milling etc the component car industry will be able to make you whatever your favorite older car is, especially those pre 1970. Frankly Im far more worried that self drive cars will be banned one day, regardless of power source and that well all get bad cancer from the toxic sludge related to elctric car production, or are we exporting that to the 3rd world, is that not the whole elctric car plan, flase virtue at home? Electroics are coming, theyre betetr powertrains, it wont be smooth or 100%, different powertrains are betetr for different things, just as there is no one enbergy souyrce. Of course the polticians will make a mess. In the end theyre just pandering to follish voiters with rainbow promises.