Automakers blast Europe’s proposed ban on new combustion engine cars by 2035

July 14, 2021, 5:15 PM UTC

The European Union is set to become the largest economic bloc in the world to completely ban the sale of combustion engine cars by 2035, prompting industry criticism that Brussels is picking winners by intervening in the free market. 

On Wednesday, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen followed through on her campaign promise to slash CO2 emissions by 2030 with a detailed proposal of measures affecting virtually every aspect of life in Europe. 

“All sectors will have to make a contribution along the way, including the car industry,” she told reporters at a briefing. 

On top of a proposed tax on carbon for goods entering its $17 trillion single market, her plan also includes a stipulation that new passenger cars must reduce their average CO2 emissions by 55% as of 2030 compared with the 95 grams per kilometer cap mandated for this year. 

In addition, a new target was introduced on Wednesday that effectively bans the sale of any new cars that do not feature either a battery or a fuel cell from 2035 onward.  

Citing a number of carmakers that had recently announced plans to phase out the sale of combustion engine cars in Europe, von der Leyen said “We’ve oriented ourselves on these ambitious targets.” 

The ban, which follows similar plans from the government of former EU member the U.K., cannot enter into law prior to comprehensive negotiations with the 27 member states and elected members of the European Parliament.

‘Simply not viable’

Speaking on behalf of Europe’s automakers, BMW’s chief executive attacked the ban as irrational, especially given the scattered charging infrastructure needed to power battery electric vehicles.

“The current proposal for an even bigger cut in CO2 emissions by 2030 requires a massive further increase in market demand for electric vehicles in a short time frame,” CEO Oliver Zipse said in a statement. “Without significantly increased efforts by all stakeholders—including member states and all involved sectors—the proposed target is simply not viable.”

Others were even more blunt in their criticism. Germany’s Mahle, which generated €9.8 billion ($11.6 billion) in revenue last year from the sales of combustion engine components like pistons and valves, blasted the decision within an hour of von der Leyen’s presentation.  

“Prescribing a technology by law contradicts the spirit of free markets and competition, for which Mahle stands, as well as endangers value chains and therefore employment in Germany and Europe,” said Michael Frick, interim chief executive of the parts supplier, in a statement.

German car dealers, which typically make the bulk of their profits from the sale and service of used combustion engine cars, likewise attacked the de facto ban. Their ZDK lobby group argued carbon-neutral electrofuels like synthetic gasoline should receive policy support because there will always be car owners who, for various reasons, cannot make the switch to zero-emissions vehicles. 

“From a consumer’s perspective, there must be a future for combustion engine vehicles operated in a climate neutral fashion,” said Jürgen Karpinski, president of the ZDK.

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