Germany softens resistance to stricter car CO2 targets

The political climate may be warming towards a more ambitious deal to limit CO2 emissions from new cars, following the leak of a document that suggests a change of heart from the German government. The document, seen by T&E and reported on in the German media, suggests Germany now supports an increase in car CO2 targets in the upcoming ‘Fit for 55’ package, after saying for the past few years that reduction targets cannot get any stricter.

Despite Germany enjoying a strong reputation for environmental action, successive German governments have sought to protect the country’s car industry by lobbying to weaken emissions standards. 

In 2017 the European Commission president’s German chief of staff ordered commissioners to drop sanctions that would punish carmakers for missing proposed electric vehicle targets, after the disgraced German carmaker Volkswagen had lobbied behind the scenes. And at the start of 2020, Germany’s economic minister wrote to the Commission vice-president Frans Timmermans saying any room for further emissions reductions from new cars was “practically exhausted”.

But now a ‘position paper’ from the German government has struck a very different tone. The German paper Frankfurter Allgemeine’s correspondent wrote: “The paper reads like an encouragement for the Commission president Ursula von der Leyen to press ahead with the controversial new CO2 limits.”

The leaked position paper makes no mention of a possible end date for new internal combustion engine cars on the EU market. Up to now, Germany has always been against a fixed date after which new petrol and diesel cars cannot be sold.

T&E’s executive director William Todts said: “This summer’s revision of CO2 limits for new cars is a litmus test for the European Green Deal. If the EU can’t be bold and ambitious on electric cars, which requires no lifestyle change and is economically a no-brainer, what hope do we have in other areas? Now even Germany is expressing support for more ambitious standards, there should be absolutely no excuse.”

“All eyes are now on Frans Timmermans and Ursula von der Leyen. They need to push for the highest possible standards, and to ban combustion engines by 2035 at the very latest.”

The change in tone from the German government may be partly to do with this autumn’s German parliamentary election, in which the Greens are the strongest challengers to the governing CDU/CSU/SPD coalition, as well as a recent high court ruling.

It may also be due to a realisation on the part of the German car industry that it stands to gain more by embracing electric technology than by resisting it. A report by T&E on Europe’s car production data suggests gains from German EV production will outweigh the decline in diesel and petrol as Germany becomes a hub, not only for batteries but also for EV production. T&E calculates that 37% of all EVs in Europe are likely to be produced in Germany by 2030. 

Just this month the Volkswagen brand announced it will stop selling combustion engines cars in Europe by 2035, while Audi - part of the Volkswagen group - said it will only launch new all-electric models from 2026 and stop selling fossil-fuel cars in 2033.