German auto industry wary of EV innovations inspired by Tesla

More than 300 high-ranking representatives of the German automotive industry gathered in Berlin recently to hear the President of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) express firm views that “the calls to ban combustion engines are becoming louder.”

VDA President Matthias Wissmann explained that the German automotive industry has already invested 14 billion euros in electric mobility, and, with 30 electric models in series production, it is currently one of the world’s leading providers of electric mobility. Electric mobility is an important component for achieving climate targets, reducing emissions of pollutants, and lowering CO2. The VDA expects that the country’s automotive manufacturers will more than triple the number of electric vehicle models to nearly 100 by 2020 as battery costs decline and electric ranges increase toward 500 km. That will edge closer to the distances gasoline and diesel cars can travel on a single tank.

Wissman warned that, if energy policy follows developments, both passenger cars and commercial vehicles would need to adhere to increased regulations and automakers would have to engage in some serious self-examination. “This industry is not start-up company that can constantly procure fresh funding despite persistent losses,” he said in a remark likely directed at Tesla. “Today we can imagine that in 2025, 15 to 25 percent of new passenger car registrations worldwide could be electric vehicles. The trend is accelerating – just a short while ago experts thought a share of only 3 percent was more likely. Every fourth or fifth new car sold will then have an electric drive.” Tesla, it must be noted, paid back its Department of Energy loan nine years early.

The German car industry is investing 40 billion euros in alternative drivetrains. This amount includes research and development expenditures as well as assets such as equipment and tools for production. Late last month BMW, Daimler, and the Volkswagen Group were among European automakers that signed a declaration of intent to start next year with the construction of a quick charging network for electric cars based on the CCS standard. Of course, Tesla has also joined the CharIN group, which created and promotes the CCS charging standard commonly found on the SAE-Combo plug.

The German automotive industry has recently intensified research and development activities in the fields of digitization and connected driving. Instead of having “to worry about the new competition,” Wissman said the German automotive industry aims to be right at the forefront of developments. These were more lightly-veiled references to Tesla Motors, Inc., with its Model S now performing as the best selling luxury car in Western Europe, accelerating past traditional high-status and internal combustion engine powered favorites like the Mercedes S class, BMW 7 Series, Audi A8, and Porsche Panamera. Wissman also affirmed that European automakers could not switch immediately to electric vehicles and eliminate combustion engines from their catalogs, as they employ hundreds of thousands of workers around the world – many of which build diesel and gasoline engines.

To accelerate the evolution toward innovative automotive methods, Wissman described how the German automotive industry is now working intensively on new mobility concepts that generate totally new business models. “This trend arises from a rapidly changing expectation on the part of customers, who no longer demand just a product, but instead a mobility service,” Wissmann said. “In addition, completely new players are appearing on the market, such as large IT corporations. We take this challenge seriously, and are also tackling it.”

The VDA recognizes that increased efficiency, recycling, and a reduction in emissions benefit both companies and consumers as is preserving natural resources is an integral part of national and European regulation. They note on their website that, according to figures published in the national Inventory Report of the German Environmental Agency, CO₂ emissions produced by road traffic in Germany from 1999 to 2012 dropped by about 30 million metric tons. “In the last ten years the average fuel consumption by newly registered passenger cars in the EU has been brought down by over one quarter, and CO2 emissions have fallen in parallel,” Wissman noted. “The potential has not yet been exhausted. We expect that in the next few years we can increase the efficiency of gasoline and diesel vehicles by at least another 10 to 15 percent.”

Since 2006, German road traffic CO₂ emissions have been below 1990 levels for the seventh successive year and are around 5 million metric tons less than the 1990 figure. No other Western European country has so far succeeded on a sustained basis in reducing road traffic CO₂ emissions below the level of 1990, according to the VDA. German automakers’ shifts to more fuel-efficient and carbon-reducing vehicles, however, can only help reduce these levels further.

To Top