But most car brands stood firm, and refused to sign, noticeably Volkswagen, BMW, Toyota and Stellantis, which combines PSA and FCA brands under one huge umbrella. VW and Toyota are the world’s two largest car companies: without them on board, the Glasgow Declaration would be largely redundant. It all seemed to make no sense, even more so given VW’s ambitious electric-car roll-out, which is the most aggressive of any brand. All the refuseniks are seasoned players on the global stage, all understood the value of signing or not signing, all foresaw the howls of outrage from the media, and even more damning corporate speak of “disappointing behaviour” from C-suite executives.
So why didn’t they sign? One word: infrastructure. Look at the responses: Toyota said, “Under our Environmental Challenge 2050 it is our mission to aim for carbon neutrality based on the principles of ‘Mobility for All’ and ‘Leave No One Behind’. To do this, we will provide the most suitable vehicles, including zero emission products, in response to the diverse economic environments, clean energy and charging infrastructure readiness, industrial policies, and customer needs in each country and region”.
BMW’s response was: “We have zero-emission technology ready today. However, BMW is not able to sign the Cop26 document at this point as there remains considerable uncertainty about the development of global infrastructure to support a complete shift to ZEVs, with major disparities across markets”.
In other words, nearly all car brands could have signed the declaration if it had listed each market with a tick box next to it, but to commit to a global elimination of internal-combustion engine cars by 2040 is in no way feasible if the countries themselves won’t commit to the public charging networks to enable that transition. And don’t forget, it wasn’t only China who refused to sign: neither did the world’s second biggest auto market, the USA, or, significantly, Germany. Why would Volkswagen sign, when its own domestic market refused to? VW is still under the shadow of the diesel scandal; another broken promise would spell disaster for public trust in the brand, so to sign a pledge over which the brands ultimately have no control appeared understandably foolhardy for the Germans.