Germany invented the gasoline engine and diesel engine. Now, Germany’s Bundesrat wants the internal combustion engine banned starting in 2030. The resolution by one of Germany’s two legislative bodies (analogous to the US Senate or British House of Lords) isn’t binding, but it had bipartisan support. It suggests the days of the internal combustion engine car are finite.
Other code phrases in the resolution, once deciphered, suggest Germany wants to roll back tax credits favoring diesel engine cars, and push for further incentives to ramp up the sales of electric vehicles.
Why a non-binding resolution is still a cannon shot
Cars and trucks represent low-hanging fruit for those who want to roll back internal combustion engine pollution. Trains, planes, and ships aren’t going to run on batteries anytime soon. Germany wants to reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 95% by 2050, according to Der Spiegel, which first reported the story. This in a country that reveres the automobile and develops many of the world’s highest-technology cars, from Audi, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz. It may be that electrification may get more engineering resources than even autonomous driving.
Europe in general sees global warming as a more immediate concern than the US, and it sees transportation activities as a major contributor. Transportation (cars, trucks, motorcycles, trains, planes, boats) represented 26% of US greenhouse gas emissions, according to the EPA. The the increase outstripped the other sectors: electricity generation, industry, agriculture, residential, and commercial. Globally, transportation represents 14% of greenhouse gas emissions. That, too, grows out of proportion to other sectors, especially with the emerging middle classes in China and India.
Quick clampdown on diesels?
The language of the resolution was oblique in places. Running a de-obfuscation filter suggests diesels are out and EVs are in.
The resolution says that at “[the] latest in 2030, only zero-emission passenger vehicles will be approved,” means Germany wants the EU Commission in Brussels to move quickly transitioning Europe to electric vehicles. Approvals are generally at the EU and not country level. In the past, the EU has often followed German regulations and resolutions, because it’s the most advanced car-building country in Europe.
The resolution calls for “review the current practices of taxation and dues” translates to: Stamp out diesels. (Or cut back their numbers.) More than half the cars in Europe run on diesel, thanks to the higher energy content (about 10%) of diesel over gasoline, higher mileage, and lower taxes that make diesel cost less. Most believe diesel sales would tank if gasoline and diesel were taxed at the same rate relative to their BTU output. This reflects concerns that diesel emissions are harder to reign in, an argument industry diesel groups dispute. Diesel vehicles also carry a price premium of $ 500 to $ 2,000 because the engines have to be built to withstand higher compression ratios.
It also calls for “stimulation of emission-free mobility,” meaning electric vehicles should get more and higher rebates. German buyers so far haven’t been buying into EVs. In July, Germany began EV subsidies retroactive to May 18, 2016: 4,000 Euros ($ 4,455) for pure electric vehicles, and 3,000 Euros for plug-in hybrids ($ 3,340). Frankfurter Neue Presse said just one in every 185 vehicles sold was an EV or PHEV qualifying for the rebate: just 4,451 of 821,000 vehicles registered since July. The most popular EVs were the Renault Zoe (876 sales), BMW i3 (766), and Audi A3 (462).
Europe has an advantage over the US in promoting EVs. There are no wide-open spaces with sparse population, whereas Alaska, Wyoming, Montana, the Dakotas, and New Mexico all average fewer than 20 people per square mile. So there would be fewer places where an EV with a 200-mile range couldn’t find the next refueling station. A large-scale shift to EVs might stimulate cars with quick-replace battery packs, or ways to replenish batteries quickly without compromising battery longevity. It will also stimulate research into hydrogen fuel cell cars.
A resolution to shift to EVs by 2030 might get pushed back. But in Germany at least, it’s a sign that the gasoline or diesel-powered car or truck has a finite lifespan.