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18 Feb 2021, 14:13
Sören Amelang

German engineers warn new EU emission rules could spell end of combustion engine

Clean Energy Wire

Future EU emission rules for cars could mean the abrupt end of combustion engines and put many jobs at risk, the country's engineering federation VDMA has warned in a position paper. "We are aware that many a politician sees an immediate end to the internal combustion engine as an advantage for the climate – but the opposite is the case," said VDMA President Karl Haeusgen in view of the upcoming deliberations of the EU Commission on the new emission standard Euro 7. "Especially in this decade, the use of efficient internal combustion engines is still important, even more so since they can be operated in a climate-neutral manner with eFuels in sight and make the mass of existing vehicles more climate-friendly." 

Current EU plans for Euro 7 would put further investments in improving combustion engines at risk, which would put hundreds of thousands of jobs throughout Europe at stake, said the VDMA, which counts major car industry suppliers such as Bosch and FZ Friedrichshafen among its members. "In its current form, Euro 7 would only bring negligible ecological benefits, impede technical progress and, at the same time, endanger half a million jobs in Germany alone," Haeusgen argued. The car industry directly employs around 800,000 people in Germany. Fears are widespread that the shift to electric mobility could lead to hefty job losses, but the issue is controversial. In late 2020, a study commissioned by Volkswagen and conducted by the Fraunhofer Institute for Organization and Industrial Engineering found that the transformation will cost fewer jobs at carmakers than many experts and unions assume,  but could hit many specialised suppliers. Boston Consulting Group (BCG) also concluded last year that there is little difference in the amount of personnel and work involved in building an electric car and a vehicle with a combustion engine.

VDMA said current plans for the regulation represents a ban of internal combustion engines "through the back door." It added that "an abrupt end to the internal combustion engine for cars and trucks would not only prevent innovation and progress in this technology but would also indirectly endanger the security of supply for people in Europe" given that many industries will continue to rely on combustion engines.

The association also said the new rules were ecologically questionable "because modern diesel engines are already much cleaner than prescribed." It also argued that an abrupt end of conventional engines would inevitably mean that the development of CO2-neutral hydrogen-based fuels to be used in the internal combustion engine would be halted, even though "synthetic fuels are indispensable in order to achieve the EU climate target at all and to make the existing fleet greener more quickly." 

Many carmakers, policymakers and green mobility experts argue that shifting to electric cars is the quickest and most efficient way to lower transport emissions. But the German car industry association VDA and many suppliers say a sole focus on electric mobility is misguided. They argue that synthetic fuels and hydrogen fuel cells will also be needed to clean up transport, even though they require much more energy because of conversion losses. From an industry perspective, synthetic fuels are a tempting proposal because they could be used in existing infrastructure and combustion engines, thereby throwing a lifeline to companies specialising in conventional engine technology.

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