Electric cars and tariffs. Europe has put itself in a cul-de-sac

The tariffs on imports of Chinese electric cars that the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, announced in her last State of the Union address have actually been introduced. These are significant amounts, up to 48%, although lower than those introduced by the United States, which reach up to 100%. However, a very strong cry of alarm has been raised by the German industry. Duties can in fact be a double-edged sword.

At the moment, exports of cars and components to China far exceed imports from that country. A third of German car manufacturers’ production is sold to China. There is therefore a strong fear that China could use the opportunity to impose retaliatory duties on European cars (as well as other categories of goods). By doing so, Beijing would push its domestic demand to replace purchases of traditional imported cars with purchases of electric cars of its own production, accelerating a process that is unfortunately already underway. This would give it a double advantage: increasing its strategic independence in terms of imported technology (internal combustion engines, where Europe has an undoubted technological superiority) and reducing its need for imported oil.

We must all remember, in fact, that China depends on oil for its mobility like us but, unlike us, has a large capacity for refining lithium, the fundamental element for the production of electric batteries. The transition to electric cars, which for us replaces one dependence with another – oil with lithium – in their case instead strengthens their strategic independence.

Unfortunately, Europe, with its choices on sustainable mobility, seems to have put itself in a cul-de-sac. If it eliminates or reduces the duties on imports of Chinese electric cars, it risks seeing its own producers succumb to Asian competition. If it maintains the duties and China imposes retaliatory duties, it puts its own car exports at risk and consequently a fundamental pillar of the European metalworking industry. As usual, the ones who will pay the hefty price will probably be the workers and the small and medium-sized businesses in the supply chain, which, unlike the large multinationals – who certainly won’t be happy – do not actually have the option of relocating to another continent. So what to do?

At the same time, we need to eliminate the rule that leads to the obligation of not being able to produce or sell, in fact, starting from 2035, that electric cars, and the duties on imports of Chinese cars. Do not reduce or postpone. Eliminate. In this way, the demand for electric cars will deflate naturally and on its own. The market has already given ample signals that there is actually very little natural demand for electric cars. The demand that does exist is largely induced or forced by regulatory obligations or economic incentives, which are difficult to sustain economically on a massive scale. Does this mean abandoning efforts on decarbonization? No, decarbonization is necessary, not only to protect the environment, but also to reduce our dependence on oil, a problematic raw material for which wars have been and are being fought. However, there are many more feasible and sustainable ways to do it. In the case of mobility, for example, focusing on biofuels. It would be enough to listen a little more to European industry, which is not only made up of profiteers or polluters, as some sometimes seem to think, but to a very large extent of citizens like everyone else, who understand and care about the common good of the community in which they live.