Fiat Panda Cross for Batch's column CD 195Fiat Panda Cross for Batch's column CD 195


James Batchelor: The Italians aren’t plugged into EVs. Are they right?

Car Dealer’s associate editor notices something rather curious about the Italians as he holidays at Lake Como

Time 8:13 am, May 26, 2024

The words for my column this month were going to be a eulogy for the Suzuki Swace but they’re not.

You may think that’s a blessing, as I was going to bore you with paragraph after paragraph about why it’s so rare to come across a car that’s so fit for purpose as the Swace.

But I’ll save that for another month, for I want to talk to you about something that I’ve been distracted by and I’m probably mulling it over too much.

I’m writing this from a lovely hotel balcony at Lake Como, and you don’t have to be Judith Chalmers to know that it’s an expensive part of Italy.

Nab an outside table at one of the numerous cafes and gelaterias that butt up against each other in every street in every impossibly Italian town on the lake and you’ll see a steady stream of posh metal – their drivers needing their egos to be polished as they do laps of the town in order to be seen by the hoi-polloi such as me.

In the narrow streets of Menaggio, on the western side of the lake, you’ll see the odd Defender V8 or Audi RS6 parked up, but if you look closely they are in the minority.

The roads are busy with locals just trying to get on with their lives and they don’t drive around in such ostentation.

The car of choice really is the Fiat Panda, whether the original or the most recent model, all battle-scarred to the same degree. Gaffer tape to hold the bumpers together is the new furry dice here.

Stroll down the quieter streets and you’ll find no pseudo premium crossovers. The Pandas jostle for parking spaces with battered Alfa 147s or mouldy first-gen A-Classes.

The Italians are famed for their love of cars and their creativity, for on the one hand they can hand-build a V12 Ferrari while also churn out the finest in rational, small city cars.

It took me two days here to realise there are no electric cars, though.

Sure, you’ll see the occasional Tesla Model 3 or Audi Q8 E-tron, but the number plates reveal they’ve hopped over the border from France.

There are no charging points, no cars proudly showing off their eco credentials with green-banded number plates.

Hybrids are popular, but that’s it. The Jeep Avenger is a hit here, but unlike in the UK they’re all of the petrol versions.

Italy is way behind the rest of Europe in being charged up about EVs. The share of pure-EVs and PHEVs in Italy in 2022 was 8.6%.

Compare that with France where plug-ins had a 21.6% slice in the same year, the UK at 22.8% and Germany at 31.4% and you can see the scale of the problem. In fact, the 8.6% share was down by 0.7% on the year before.

Various surveys have quizzed Italians on why they’re not making the switch. There’s the usual cost concerns, and lack of charging infrastructure is a major worry, but I think there’s a greater problem.

While in the UK we’re obsessed with changing our cars every three years, the typical Italian buys once and then flogs that car until it dies – and even then they’ll find a way to keep it on the road. Visit the ruralist places and it’s wall-to-wall 30-year-old Fiats running around.

Now, before you all write in, the same can be said in the UK.

Crumbling Volvo V70s and old Range Rovers held together with straw and dead pheasants are the order of the day, but in general we Brits are more keen to hop into a two-tonne electric SUV on an £800-a-month PCP deal.

We’re more of the zeitgeist, but are we fooling ourselves?

Italy will have to transition to EVs in the same way the rest of Europe is doing, but as I sit here and see the finest displays of automotive recycling, I’m inclined to think the Italians are doing it right.

This column appears in the current edition of Car Dealer – issue 195 – along with news, reviews, features and much more. You can read and download it for FREE here!

James Batchelor's avatar

James – or Batch as he’s known – started at Car Dealer in 2010, first as the work experience boy, eventually becoming editor in 2013. He worked for Auto Express as editor-at-large and was the face of Carbuyer’s YouTube reviews. In 2020, he went freelance and now writes for a number of national titles and contributes regularly to Car Dealer. In October 2021 he became Car Dealer's associate editor.

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