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Why electric cars aren't more popular in Italy

The Local Italy
The Local Italy - [email protected]
Why electric cars aren't more popular in Italy
The hybrid Fiat 500 (L) and Panda (R) on display in Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore. Unlike in many other EU countries, sales of electric vehicles in Italy are low - and dropping. (Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP)

Italy has one of the lowest rates of electric vehicle use in Europe, and says it won't be ready to stop selling petrol and diesel cars by 2035. Here's why Italy is behind the curve.

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Italian government ministers have criticised a European Union plan to end the sale of new petrol and diesel cars by 2035, saying Italy is “behind” with the switch to electric vehicles now underway in many other EU countries.

The European Parliament on Tuesday approved the ban, which would allow petrol and diesel vehicles to stay on the roads but aims to stop the sale of new ones within the next 12 years.

The move was hailed by environmentalists as a key step towards slashing carbon emissions, improving air quality and slowing the rate of climate change - but Italy’s government leaders weren't pleased.

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"Italy is behind with the transition [to electric] of the car sector and we must accelerate with investments," business minister Adolfo Urso told Rai radio.

But the timeframes set out under the EU ban "do not match the European reality and, above all, they don't match the Italian one," he said.

READ ALSO: OPINION: Why are Italians so addicted to cars?

Foreign minister and deputy co-prime minister Antonio Tajani reportedly said the ban was a "serious mistake" and said Italy would “forward a counter-proposal of limiting the reduction to 90 percent, giving industries the chance to adapt.”

Infrastructure minister and co-deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini meanwhile called the ban “crazy” and claimed it would penalise European and Italian businesses while working “in favour of Chinese businesses”.

The ministers did not clarify why they believe the ban would be particularly difficult to implement in Italy compared to in other EU member states, and Italy wasn’t alone in raising objections: MEP Jens Gieseke of the centre-right EPP also argued the ban would put German jobs at risk.

But studies show that Italy is indeed “behind” other EU countries when it comes to the uptake of electric vehicles (EVs). 

One survey published by Italian financial newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore found that only 3.7 percent of vehicles sold in Italy in 2022 were electric.

That's compared to 79 percent in Norway, 33 percent in Sweden, 23 percent in the Netherlands, 21 percent in Denmark, and 18 percent in Germany, Finland and Switzerland.

Italy was also the only European country that saw sales of electric cars shrink, rather than grow, in 2022 - by 0.9 percent.

These figures relate to the sale of 'pure' electric or battery-electric vehicles (BEVs). Hybrids are another matter, and these are also divided into different categories, though the EU ban would mean hybrids can no longer be sold from 2035 - only cars which produce zero emissions would be allowed.

An electric car charging station in Germany, where 18 percent of new vehicles registered in 2022 were BEVs.(Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP)

The main reason for low uptake of electric vehicles in Italy is believed to be the prohibitively high buying and running costs.

One consumer opinion survey published by Italian news outlet Open found that eight out of ten motorists in Italy would consider buying an electric vehicle “provided that the total cost does not exceed 30,000 euros”.

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But this budget “significantly limits the possible range of purchasable vehicles, despite the current incentives,” Open writes.

Financial incentives available in Italy provide discounts of just €3,000 on new electric cars, against a European average of €9,000.

While that figure grew to between €4,000 and €6,000 between 2019 and 2021, in 2022 it dropped back to €3,000, according to the motorists' site Al Volante.

And that's only if you simultaneously scrap your old petrol or diesel car (otherwise the amount drops to €1,500) and this discount is only valid for new vehicles that cost up to €35,000.

READ ALSO: ‘How we used a government bonus to buy an electric car in Italy’

It can rise as high as €7,500 for low-income households (those on an ISEE of less than €30,000) - but, as the site points out, low-earning families are unlikely to have tens of thousands of euros to spend on a brand new car.

While the most recent batch of government incentives to help with the purchase of new petrol or diesel vehicles were quickly exhausted, funds towards the purchase of electric cars "have remained largely unused," Urso said.

"Electric cars cost too much for Italian wage earners and are today essentially the prerogative of the rich in Italy," he said.

Open reports that even with the government incentives, buying an electric car in Italy will cost the consumer “a minimum of 20,000 euros.”

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“As for the cost of recharging, prices range from 40 to 70 cents per kWh.”

The cost of running an electric Fiat 500 - the most popular EV model in Italy - is 10 cents per kilometre, Open calculates: the same as running a diesel car.

Other than cost, the two main reasons Italian consumers gave in the Open survey for being opposed to buying an electric vehicle were limited range and a lack of charging points.

Italy has also been particularly slow to invest in infrastructure needed to make the widespread adoption of electric vehicles realistic.

In Italy today there are 36,000 charging points, compared to 90,000 in the Netherlands, reports Il Sole 24 Ore.

It's hoped that the current number of charging points in Italy will almost double by 2030 under a government initiative that forms part of the National Recovery and Resilience Plan (PNRR).

“To achieve European objectives on decarbonisation, a fleet of around six million electric vehicles is expected by 2030, for which it is estimated that 31,500 public fast-charging points will be needed”, the plan states.

PNRR funding will partially cover the cost of 21,000 additional charging stations for electric vehicles, which will be operational by 2026, according to two new decrees issued by the Italian transport ministry in January.

Italy plans a large-scale overhaul of infrastructure under the PNRR, after it received the largest share of the EU's post-pandemic stimulus package. However, Al Volante reports that the country has allocated no other funds to incentivising a switch to electric vehicles.

According to analysis by the Italian government included in the PNRR, EVs currently account for just over 0.1 percent of the total number of registered vehicles on Italian roads.

If more measures aren't taken to bring the country in line with European standards, it's feared Italy could fall victim to the 'Havana effect', where the same petrol and diesel cars are recycled for decades on end.

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Comments (3)

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Greg Dorland 2024/01/23 20:39
We purchased a 100% electric car at the end of April and drove from Cortina to Puglia occasionally having to search for charging stations. We had never made this drive before. Repeating the drive this fall and venturing down into Sicily we had zero problems with charging. Many new high speed chargers are now to be found on the autostrada and even on smaller roads. -gd
Anonymous 2023/02/16 20:55
Too bad that the "local" is using 5+ years old data. Makes this article seriously outdated!
mail_280607 2023/02/16 18:43
The charging situation in Italy isn't nearly as bad as Italians make out. Outside of the cities there are new fast charging points (10-90% in 30 mins) popping up at many service stations on the Autoroutes. The sophisticated software built into the navigator of most electric cars guides you to the nearest charging point within your range. However, the ideal situation is to charge at home using electricity from your own PV panels, there is so much sun in Italy that this system guarantees almost no running costs. Definitely to be incentivised by the Italian government and a no brainer for helping the planet.

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