Only electric cars on sale from 2035 is the ‘wrong way to go’, experts warn


A leading mechanical engineering group has criticised European governments – including the UK – for plans to axe combustion engine vehicles from the market to meet net zero targets, saying it is fossil fuel that is the real problem.

Plans to allow only new electric vehicles on sale from 2035 is ‘the wrong way to go’ because the internal combustion engine is ‘ecological and economically advantageous,’ the Mechanical Engineering Industry Association (VDMA) says.

If the combustion engine is outlawed in just over a decade’s time, it estimates it will lead to 160,000 job losses across Europe. 

The comments come just weeks after UK ministers outlined plans for a Zero Emission Vehicle (ZEV) mandate to be introduced in 2024, which would see car makers pressured to sell an increasing share of electric models as part of the transition towards the ban on sales of traditional petrol and diesel motors in 2030.

‘It is not the engine that is the problem, but the fossil fuels used to date’: Experts say governments should scrap their plans to outlaw the sale of internal combustion engines

The Frankfurt-based group of experts in the field of mechanical engineering said proposals to outlaw the sale of internal combustion engines is the ‘wrong way to go in terms of climate and innovation policy’.

It is calling on EU policy makers not to rule out synthetic ‘e-fuels’, which some manufacturers – including Porsche and Mazda – have invested in heavily in a bid to save the conventional car engine from doom at the end of the decade.

‘It is not the engine that is the problem, but the fossil fuels used to date,’ explains the group’s president, Karl Haeusgen.

‘Instead of effectively banning the combustion engine by limiting all tailpipe emissions to zero, all climate-friendly drive options should be used,’ he adds.

‘The internal combustion engine powered by CO2-neutral, green eFuels remains a necessary complement to the electrification of road transport. 

What are e-fuels? 

Porsche's greener fuel: The German sports car maker will be testing synthetic petrol in racing cars this year

Porsche’s greener fuel: The German sports car maker will be testing synthetic petrol in racing cars this year

Instead of using oil to create petrol and diesel, an e-fuel’s chemical structure is made up of predominantly of hydrogen and carbon atoms, which are created using hydrogen from water and carbon from the air.

While the process requires a lot of energy, this can be generated by renewable sources, such as wind and solar power.

For instance, carbon removed from the atmosphere in the process offsets the emissions from the engines when the e-fuel is burned (though this means local air pollution levels won’t be reduced).

Porsche recently partnered with Siemens, energy firms Enel and AME, and petroleum company ENAP to build an e-fuel factory in Chile.

The German car maker says the plant aims to produce 55 million litres of e-fuel a year by 2024, and 550 million litres by 2026.

That’s only a fraction of the 45.6 billion litres of petrol and diesel consumed in the UK alone each year, though Porsche says the production will mainly be used for testing their efficiency, with the synthetic fuel used in its racing cars and at its experience centres. 

Bosch is also known to be investigating the possibility of creating synthetic fuels while Mazda earlier this year became the first automotive manufacturer to join the ‘eFuel Alliance’. 

‘After all, it is not the engine that is the problem, but the fossil fuels used to date.’

On top of the ecological benefits of retaining the internal combustion engine, the group said in its new ‘Drive Systems in Transition III’ report that outlawing it will cost 160,000 jobs in the powertrain value chain across Europe. 

‘It is true that new jobs will be created in the upstream processes of the supply chain, for example in the processing of materials for battery cells and in the charging infrastructure environment. 

‘But this is not happening at the same time and nowhere near the same amount. The new jobs are not interchangeable with those lost,’ Haeusgen says.

The VDMA also sees Europe’s industrial strength at risk if the internal combustion engine is phased out entirely.

Hartmut Rauen, deputy managing director at VDMA, said: ‘A greater diversity of climate-neutral drive technologies reduces dependence on scarce raw material imports and increases economic resilience.’

The VDMA’s comments come just weeks in the wake of UK ministers providing a first glimpse of the government’s plan to shift away from the internal combustion engine with a ZEV mandate introduced in two years’ time.

A technical consultation paper on the policy design for the mandate was published at the beginning of April and gives legally binding annual targets for the market share of sales for electric vehicles in the run up to 2030.

It outlines that more than one in five (22 per cent) of all cars sold in Britain in 2024 should be zero-emission electric models.

To put that into context, some 15.4 per cent of all UK registrations in 2022 so far are electric vehicles. 

By 2028, this share should rise to more than half (52 per cent) and by 2030 – the date marked for the ban on sales of new internal-combustion-engine-only petrols and diesels – some 80 per cent of registrations need to be electric.

By 2035 – the date when new hybrids are also banished from showrooms – all models sold in Britain should be electric, under the mandate proposal.

Electric future: Proposals for a Zero Emission Vehicle mandate were published earlier this month, providing year-by-year binding EV sales targets for manufacturers from 2024 to 2035

Electric future: Proposals for a Zero Emission Vehicle mandate were published earlier this month, providing year-by-year binding EV sales targets for manufacturers from 2024 to 2035

A ZEV mandate will provide the Treasury with an accurate picture of when it will lose tax revenues from fossil fuel cars, which contribute billions of pounds to its coffers every year

A ZEV mandate will provide the Treasury with an accurate picture of when it will lose tax revenues from fossil fuel cars, which contribute billions of pounds to its coffers every year

Ministers see the mandate as the most effective way of shifting the UK’s car parc to EVs.

Projection for year-on-year ZEV mandate targets 

2024: 22% new car sales electric

2025: 28% 

2026: 33% 

2027: 38% 

2028: 52% 

2029: 66% 

2030: 80% 

2031: 84% 

2032: 88% 

2033: 92% 

2034: 96% 

2035: 100% 

They believe it is the only way of providing the Treasury with an accurate picture of how rapidly it will lose revenues earned through motoring taxes on fossil fuel cars – both vehicle excise duty [car tax] and fuel duty – which contribute billions of pounds to its coffers every year.

Commenting on the proposals, Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders chief executive Mike Hawes said: ‘Any mandate must be pragmatic, flexible and reflective of every manufacturer’s long-term commitment.

‘It must also avoid being so complex and prescriptive that it becomes a straitjacket for the market and UK manufacturing investment.

‘The danger is that consumers will lack the incentive to purchase these new vehicles – vehicles that will remain more expensive than traditional petrol and diesel cars for a number of years to come – in the quantities needed, keeping their older, more polluting vehicles for even longer thereby undermining the carbon savings this regulation seeks to deliver.’

Mr Hawes says mandates on car makers can only succeed if they are ‘matched with consumer incentives’ and ‘binding targets for infrastructure provision’.

E-fuels ‘produce as much poisonous emissions as fossil fuels’, says eco transport group

Cars running on e-fuels emit as much poisonous nitrogen oxides (NOx) as vehicles using conventional fossil fuels, according to a report published at the end of last year.

Tests conducted on behalf of think tank Transport & Environment in December found that motors running on this ‘greener’ type of petrol emit equally high levels of toxic NOx fumes as standard E10 unleaded – and much more carbon monoxide and ammonia – despite having a lower CO2 impact.

It concludes that e-fuels ‘will do little to alleviate the air quality problems in our cities’ that have been linked to thousands of premature deaths each year.

E-fuels as harmful as petrol: New tests carried out by a green transport think tank claims cars running on synthetic fuel emit as much poisonous nitrogen oxides as standard unleaded

E-fuels as harmful as petrol: New tests carried out by a green transport think tank claims cars running on synthetic fuel emit as much poisonous nitrogen oxides as standard unleaded

Measurements taken in a lab from a Mercedes-Benz A-Class running on three different e-fuel mixes.

However, because no e-fuels are currently on sale, the French lab produced 100 litres of e-petrol itself with different blends. 

The same test cycles were repeated using the Mercedes running on conventional E10 petrol and found that NOx levels were almost identical. 

This Mercedes A-Class was used for the tests, taking emissions measurements following cycles using three e-fuel mixes and conventional E10 petrol sold today

This Mercedes A-Class was used for the tests, taking emissions measurements following cycles using three e-fuel mixes and conventional E10 petrol sold today

And while particle emissions are considerably reduced, more than two billion particles are still emitted for every kilometre driven in an e-petrol powered vehicle. 

When burned, synthetic petrol causes almost three times more carbon monoxide – which deprives the heart and brain of oxygen – compared to petrol. 

The e-petrol powered car also emitted up to two times more ammonia, which can combine with other compounds in the air to form particles (PM2.5) for which there is no safe level of pollution. 

The health risks of PM2.5 include asthma, heart disease and cancer.

Julia Poliscanova, senior director for vehicles and e-mobility at T&E, said e-fuels have ‘lost the race to clean up cars’.

‘No amount of spin can overcome the science of burning hydrocarbons,’ she adds.

‘As long as fuel is combusted in engines, toxic air will persist in our cities. Lawmakers who leave loopholes for e-fuels in emissions targets are condemning the public to decades more of avoidable air pollution.’

Construction of Porsche and Siemens Energy's new e-fuel plant in Chile is underway, the German car maker confirmed in September 2021

Construction of Porsche and Siemens Energy’s new e-fuel plant in Chile is underway, the German car maker confirmed in September 2021

As well as offering little in terms of eco benefits, the report concluded that e-fuels will very much be limited only for the wealthy.

The green transport think tank claims industry proposals to allow loopholes for e-fuels in EU car CO2 targets will drive up costs for drivers. 

Running a car on e-fuels over five years will cost a driver approximately £8,500 more than running a battery electric car, the report estimates. 

Battery electric cars offer drivers the cleanest, most efficient and affordable way to decarbonise, while synthetic fuels are best suited to planes where electrification is not an option

Julia Poliscanova, Senior Director at Transport & Environment

High e-fuel costs will also make running second-hand cars on e-petrol around £8,500 more expensive over the same timeframe. 

‘This makes them ill-suited to decarbonise the existing fleet, something the oil and car parts industry advocate for,’ says the report.  

It adds that the cost of production is also far higher than electrifying vehicles.

Supplying just 10 per cent of new cars with e-fuels instead of electrifying them will require 23 per cent more renewable electricity generation in Europe, the report states. 

Yet Transport & Environment didn’t rubbish the concept of e-fuels entirely, saying they should be prioritised for planes, most of which cannot use batteries to decarbonise and which today burn fossil fuels that may be even worse for air pollution.

Mazda confirmed in 2021 that it had joined the eFuel Alliance - a group of organisations that want to establish CO2-neutral synthetic fuels to reducing transport emissions

Mazda confirmed in 2021 that it had joined the eFuel Alliance – a group of organisations that want to establish CO2-neutral synthetic fuels to reducing transport emissions

Poliscanova added: ‘Battery electric cars offer drivers the cleanest, most efficient and affordable way to decarbonise, while synthetic fuels are best suited to planes where electrification is not an option. 

‘The credibility of Europe’s clean car policy is on the line and any diversion into e-fuels is a new lease of life for old polluting engines.’

Concawe, a research organisation that represents the oil industry, stressed that e-fuels remain compatible with the latest EU vehicle emission standards (Euro 6) despite the findings, but acknowledged that electric vehicles are the best way forward to decarbonise cars and vans.

‘E-fuels produced from renewable electricity can compete with battery electric vehicles on their life-cycle CO2 emissions. However, the are far less efficient from an energy point of view,’ it said in its rebuttal to the NGO’s study.

‘For this reason, we agree that electrifying journeys, either through battery electric vehicles or plug-in hybrid vehicles, remains the main short-term solution for reducing the carbon footprint of new passenger cars.’

It added: ‘Still, internal combustion engine vehicles represent and will represent for the coming decade the vast majority of vehicles on the roads, and renewable low-carbon liquid fuels are an opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions of road transport, in addition to the electrification of the fleet.

‘These conclusions are even more important for heavy-duty vehicles where there are significant challenges for full electrification.’ 

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