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[NEWS] Editor's letter: Is anybody listening to Carlos Tavares?

Editor's letter: Is anybody listening to Carlos Tavares?

carlos tavares 1
Tavares warns that less-developed nations could be forced out of the new-car market by rising prices

Stellantis's vocal leader airs concerns over dogmatism surrounding EVs and decarbonisation

As well as being perhaps the most influential car company boss in Europe, Carlos Tavares of Stellantis is its most quotable. 

Earlier this week, he spent two days in Luton at the Vauxhall van factory for a business review (“you’re never short of things to improve…”) before sitting down with a small group of journalists to give a state of a nation address. Any pre-prepared remarks, Mr Tavares? “No, that would be boring… What do you want to know?” 

Even with only little over half an hour of his time available before his flight home, Tavares still offers plenty to fill notebooks, including why regulations exempting e-fuels from any ICE ban threaten to add “confusion to chaos”; the progress Stellantis is already making towards its net-zero-carbon goal; why the door for a gigafactory in the UK remains open; and his suspicion that the Euro 7 emission regulations are signs that EU lawmakers are, as with e-fuels, wavering in the all-out push towards EVs. 

The theme underpinning so many of Tavares’s remarks is his frustration, if not disbelief, that rather than setting a goal to reduce CO2 emissions agnostically to the technological solution and letting the industry’s brightest brains work out how to get there, lawmakers have mandated that this goal must be reached through EVs, whatever the alternatives. 

We last caught up with Tavares in person in the autumn at the Paris motor show, where the night before he’d had dinner with French president Emmanuel Macron. The headline back then was that he understood from that discussion that political leaders had been “dogmatic and naive” in their decisions to dictate the technology choice. Then as now, he said they don’t listen to him. 

He was quite animated and bullish in his tone then. This time, he delivered a similar message in a more resigned way, with more warnings attached as to what the consequences of the lawmakers’ decisions could be. 

Frequently, the questions came back to us – “Why aren’t you asking these questions?” – from Tavares when highlighting that cost and emissions breakthroughs in e-fuels (which he implied would surely be forthcoming at some point between now and the proposed ICE ban) would provide that confusion and chaos in potentially making the industry pivot again back to ICE, sending gigafactories and many billions of development costs to waste.

This is one of only two scenarios that he sees playing out, the other being no e-fuels breakthrough and the switch to EVs remaining the status quo. For if a breakthrough does happen, the inference is that it’s a no-brainer to stick with ICEs for their greater affordability.

Which brings us to Tavares’s other big bugbear: not just the affordability of cars in developed markets but also that in emerging ones. He believes the Western world’s leading role in trying to reduce global CO2 emissions threatens to derail the emergence of affordable cars in developing countries. He said he’s all-in on EVs, as that’s what legislation demands, yet the affordability issue simply hasn’t been confronted or acknowledged, nor the knock-on effects. 

"The leaders of the Western world may have their opinion about the best way to fix global warming, but they aren’t legitimate to impose their view on the rest of the world. So where do you fix that? You fix that at COP, right? 

"What is COP about? COP is about one part of the world that has become rich by destroying the planet saying to the other parts of the world that they should slow down their development. That's the reality that nobody is explaining to the people.

"Now the consequences that you’re going to see all over the world on this fundamental change are far from being identified. If you ask me to transform my company, I can. Are the markets going to stay the same size as they are today? Perhaps not. Perhaps the markets will shrink, because mobility is too expensive.”

Tavares said he doesn’t envy politicians, believing they have a hard job. Nor does he want to swap roles. Yet with a voice as reasoned as Tavares on offer to decision-makers, perhaps they could make their lives easier by listening to him once in a while.

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