The European Commission’s proposed Euro 7 emission rules on cars, vans, trucks and buses would amount to “a ban through the back door” of internal combustion engines as of 2025, if implemented in their current form, industry has said, calling the proposal premature and “completely out of the question”.
The ‘Euro 7‘ rules aim to ensure vehicles are clean over their entire lifetime, helping Europe to meet its European Green Deal emissions targets. The exact details of the measure are still under discussion, but they are already creating jitters at VDMA, a German trade association representing mechanical engineering companies.
“The planned obligation that new vehicles in Europe must be practically emission-free from 2025 onwards would be an ecological, economic and technological aberration,” VDMA said in a statement.
“The proposals for the Euro 7 regulation discussed so far jeopardise value chains far beyond the automotive industry by leading to a de facto ban on cars and trucks powered solely by internal combustion engines. Europe cannot afford that,” the statement said.
VDMA argues that the introduction of e-fuels means the internal combustion engine will continue to play a role in the shift to green transport.
E-fuels, such as liquid hydrogen, can be created from electricity provided by renewable sources, offering a green alternative to fossil fuels. However, these synthetic fuels currently have a much higher cost of production and require large amounts of renewable energy to be carbon neutral.
Frans Timmermans, the EU’s climate policy chief, said decisions will be made in dialogue with the car industry, but stressed that his intention was not to avoid “difficult topics and difficult decisions”.
“You know that the car industry starts by saying it’s impossible and then, in the end, complies,” he told a press briefing last November. “But I’m not taking that as a template for my negotiations now because we have to listen to [the industry], we have to listen to their arguments,” he said.
Timmermans acknowledged the critical role of car manufacturing for the European economy but said the industry needs to now move towards electric vehicles and the use of hydrogen for heavier transport.
“I know that there is a lot of nervousness. We will have this dialogue with the industry, but we cannot wait until 2029 to have a further reduction of our emissions,” he added.
Car manufacturers react
The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) said that there is “no evidence” that the scenarios put forward in the proposal are technically feasible at present, particularly as the stringent emissions limits must be met in even in extreme driving conditions, such as when travelling up hill or in harsh winter weather.
In practice this means that “the targets manufacturers will set themselves for engineering development have to be much lower than the prescribed limits,” an ACEA spokesperson said.
“Rather than announcing bans on the internal combustion engine in the short term, what is needed is a strong political commitment to put all the enabling conditions for the transition to zero-emission mobility – such as charging infrastructure and incentives – in place as a matter of urgency,” the spokesperson added.
CCFA, a group representing French car manufacturers including Renault, said they are concerned by the Euro 7 standards, but expect changes before the final version is published.
“The first proposals that have been made require a decrease of 60% to 90% of emissions, which is not realistic at all. It is a very complicated objective to reach regarding non-electric cars,” said Laure De Servigny, information and media relations officer at CCFA.
“To reduce and phase out emissions, a solution would be to use clean energies like biofuels. It could help reach this objective. The other solution is to only sell electrical and hybrid vehicles, but I am not sure consumers will approve of them and buy them,” she added.
The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) is similarly concerned by what’s currently on the table.
“The fact is, the current proposal threatens to make the internal combustion engine and the progress made so far impossible. What is sold as sustainable is ultimately even harmful to the climate: the renewal of existing vehicles is not progressing quickly enough, consumers are unsettled and the previous vehicles continue to be driven,” said VDA president Hildegard Müller.
“In addition, there is a negative consequence for e-mobility: a premature end of the internal combustion engine hinders, makes more expensive, and delays the enormous transformation process that our companies – manufacturers and suppliers – are currently having to master in order to continue to be world leaders in this area,” she added.
VDA believe scrapping the internal combustion engine within the next four years is unrealistic.
“An end to the internal combustion engine by 2025 is completely out of the question! The internal combustion engine will play a major role for a long time to come,” said Müller.
“A sense of proportion”
Major German vehicle manufacturer BMW told EURACTIV that “efficient” combustion engines will continue to play a “central role” for certain customers, such as those that live in rural areas without convenient access to charging infrastructure.
The company expressed concern that Euro 7 would set emission parameters that cannot be technically achieved in every driving situation, resulting in an indirect ban on the internal combustion engine.
“A further development towards Euro 7 must be done with a sense of proportion and focus on further improving air quality. The combination of limit values and framework conditions must be set in such a way that they can be implemented in a technically meaningful way and have a balanced cost-benefit ratio,” BMW told EURACTIV.
Mercedes-Benz also voiced their opposition to an internal combustion ban “through the back door”.
“The transformation to emission-free mobility takes time and is already being carried out today through CO2 legislation, subsidies for buyers and infrastructure. From our point of view, the scenarios currently being discussed are technically not feasible,” the company said via email to EURACTIV.
Volkswagen, one of the world’s bestselling car brands, said in a statement to EURACTIV that the current Euro 7 proposals would push up the price of vehicles.
“The Euro 7 scenarios discussed would only be possible with far-reaching technical measures that are complex and therefore very cost-intensive. A comprehensive expansion of exhaust gas after treatment combined with the need for hybridisation would make most vehicles significantly more expensive,” said Volkswagen in an email.
“In the particularly sensitive segment of small cars, the surcharge would no longer be acceptable for many customers,” the company added.
The view from Brussels
The European Commission says it is trying to maintain the competitiveness of the automotive industry whilst protecting citizens’ health and the environment. The EU executive points out that it has not concluded its evaluation nor finalised its assessment of possible solutions, and that a deadline of the end of 2021 is set for the Euro 7 proposal.
“The Commission is carefully evaluating various emissions stringency scenarios and will balance the emissions saved against the extra costs required to achieve them,” said an official at the EU executive.
“It is more probable that the internal combustion engines will cease to exist if no harmonised action is taken to render them less polluting,” the official told EURACTIV, highlighting cities and EU countries that have banned vehicles with combustion engines on the grounds of improving air quality and safeguarding citizens.
[Edited by Frédéric Simon and Zoran Radosavljevic]