Germany is swinging the internal combustion engine: the car industry is a long way ahead of politics – politics

The days of classic car manufacturers are over. The final platform for combustion engines will be developed in 2026. It is possible to achieve the even stricter climate targets in the EU and it is to be welcomed that Europe is a pioneer in climate protection. The CO2 price and the diesel price are too low.

These reviews are not from an environmentalist, but from the CEO of the world’s largest car company, Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess. The sound from Wolfsburg is not new. The car industry has long become accustomed to VW sounding like Fridays for Future.

It remains to be seen whether that is credible or not. From an entrepreneurial point of view it is certainly sensible: Volkswagen wants and must sell its new electric cars, in which the Group is investing billions. It doesn’t help if the boss is enthusiastic about petrol and diesel engines.

BMW and Daimler or (almost) any other car manufacturer could easily get the green light. They are all on the electric journey and the calculation is always the same: because the climate policy framework does not allow “business as usual” and sticking to outdated technology is becoming expensive, the business model must be changed. That also takes a lot of time and money. But there is no economic alternative to the transformation – and it has long been happening worldwide.

German politicians are constantly running through non-binding exit scenarios

Just like in China, electromobility is practically a state of affairs in the major international car markets. Volkswagen, for example, sells 40 percent of its cars in the People’s Republic and is the market leader there. Other governments set a departure date for the combustion engine: most recently California (2035), before that France and Great Britain (2040), Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, India (2030) or Norway (2025).

Herbert Diess & Co can calmly follow the discussion in Germany, where politics are playing non-binding exit scenarios for the umpteenth time. In terms of thinking and strategy, the car managers have long been ahead of Markus Söder (CSU) or Winfried Kretschmann (Greens).

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What does it matter to Volkswagen if Söder is in favor of an end to the combustion engine by 2035, when he has just asked for a purchase premium for “clean petrol and diesel”? Or what does it help if Kretschmann does not expect a quick success with the electric cars, the development of which Daimler and Porsche in Baden-Württemberg are spending billions? By the way, they both sell most of their cars in China. Neither one nor the other state politician will divert the auto companies’ research and development budgets.

The federal government will not commit itself to an exit date in the foreseeable future either. And even the European Commission has only agreed to reach an agreement – in the coming months. Perhaps.

However, this political lack of involvement in the land of auto inventors and engineers is no reason to remain calm. Because Germany is well on track to become the last bastion of the combustion engine, as the world’s auto centers are saying goodbye to this technology. That’s right, the combustion engine can still have a future if synthetic, climate-neutral fuels are used. But at the moment it does not look like an affordable and efficient solution for the mass market.

Industry also needs planning certainty in Germany

It can therefore only be in the interest of industry if politics in this country also provides planning security. Then all that remains is what is technically feasible, available in the short term and affordable for ordinary car users: electric mobility. This does not preclude openness to technology in research. The point now is to finally get the alternatives to gasoline and diesel on the road. Not only in China and California, but also in Berlin and Hintertupfingen. However, the example of CO2 regulation shows that the automotive industry only goes as far as it needs to be. That is economically rational, economically problematic and fatal in terms of climate policy. Politicians should be wondering what’s stopping them from setting a date for companies to say goodbye to the old world of combustion, which is already included in virtually all business plans.

It is paradoxical: on the one hand, there are warnings about the loss of thousands of jobs that would lead to a restructuring of the car industry too quickly. On the other hand, Tesla and the speed with which the American electric car manufacturer is bringing innovations to market, building factories and creating jobs are admired – soon also in Brandenburg.

Herbert Diess goes so far as to describe Tesla as a role model. Politicians do not have to follow this example. Something would sooner be gained if industry and transport politicians in this country were less afraid to stick to the existing situation. A fixed date by which new petrol and diesel vehicles may no longer be registered in Germany would be a sign with signal power. No more but no less either.

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