FCA CEO: Automakers need government support in Europe amid 'biggest single risk ever'

Breana Noble
The Detroit News

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO Mike Manley called on European policymakers Tuesday to step up their support for automakers in their transition to electrified vehicles as the novel coronavirus pandemic represents the "biggest single risk ever to face our industry."

In the first half of the year, production on the continent of an estimated 3.6 million vehicles valued at approximately $118 billion were lost because of shutdowns related to COVID-19, with new vehicle registrations in 2020 expected to drop 25% from last year, Manley said. Instead of relaxing limitations on carbon emissions, however, the European Union over the past year has accelerated its requirements.

Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV CEO Mike Manley said in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which he called the industry's "biggest single risk ever," European automakers need more support to make the transition to electrified vehicles.

"The stakes are extremely high with COVID, which is adding massive pressure on the auto sector when it is navigating fundamental technology shifts," Manley said during a virtual seminar held by the European Automobile Manufacturers Association. "In this time of unprecedented challenges, policymakers in Brussels and in the member states need to step up their political and practical support."

Specifically, Manley, who is president of the association, cited the European Green Deal approved in January that increased the 2030 carbon-dioxide reduction target to 55% from 45% compared to 1990 levels.

"We might have expected the European Commission would cut the industry a break, but that really just didn't happen at all," Colin Couchman, IHS Markit analyst, said during a panel after Manley's remarks.

FCA is widely considered to be behind in the development of electric vehicles, having to pay its competitors $470 million to meet compliance standards in Europe and North America in the first half of the year. Last year before passage of the Green Deal, Manley said FCA would be in compliance in Europe by the end of 2021 or in 2022, though its pending merger with French rival Groupe PSA is expected to accelerate that timeline.

"The ambitions laid out by the commission's new proposal will now require massive additional investments at an already difficult time," Manley said. "But our investments alone will never be enough. If we want zero-emission mobility to become a real option for all Europeans, we all will need a vast network of charging points and refueling stations across all E.U. countries coupled with economically sustainable incentives.

"The E.U. recovery plan should also be translated into concrete support measures such as fleet renewal schemes to stimulate demand for low- and zero-emission cars, trucks and other commercial vehicles."

The European Union has committed to deploying 1 million charging stations along highways by 2025, Diederik Samsom noted during the panel. Samsom is head of the cabinet of European Commissioner Frans Timmermans, who is leading the work on the Green Deal. The E.U. also is making $888 billion available to member states in a recovery fund focused on supporting industries reducing greenhouse gases.

"There's never been so much public money available, and there's never been so much sense of public urgency to make this happen," Samsom said. "In a strange way, the COVID-19 crisis is the perfect storm to make this transition."

But the industry, said Eric-Mark Huitema, the association's director general, may need even more from the E.U. in terms of "getting some firm mandates or pushing the member states in the right direction or supporting with extra money to make this happen."


Twitter: @BreanaCNoble