German automakers denounce ‘unrealistic’ EU emissions targets

German and other European automakers warned Tuesday that EU plans to slash carbon dioxide emissions from new cars and vans by 2030 are "totally unrealistic" without a network to recharge electric cars and more effort to retrain workers.

German automakers denounce 'unrealistic' EU emissions targets
A traffic jam in Hamburg. Photo: DPA

European Union countries and the European Parliament agreed in principle on Monday to require new cars in 2030 to emit 37.5 percent less carbon dioxide on average compared to 2021 while van emissions will have to drop 31 percent.

Ambassadors from EU countries are to expected to endorse the deal in Brussels on Wednesday – a deal officials touted as advancing the bloc's efforts to meet commitments under the Paris climate accord.

But carmakers in Europe, particularly in industry powerhouse Germany, complained the new curbs were not well thought through.

“This new regulation demands too much and offers too little incentive,” said Bernhard Mattes, head of the German carmakers' federation VDA.

SEE ALSO: Germany eases diesel vehicle bans, angering environmentalists

With tougher measures than other parts of the world, he warned, “the European automobile industry will find itself heavily penalized in international competition.”

Mattes argued that EU regulators failed to take into account market conditions, saying ordinary motorists were not ready to switch to electric cars.

“EU member countries must also step up to their responsibilities and boost the vehicle recharging infrastructure,” he said.

Though the new curbs will apply throughout the bloc, he said, three quarters of the recharging stations for electric cars are located in only four countries: Britain, Germany, France and the Netherlands.

Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess said the rules will “lead to a strong restructuring of production as well as extra factories and battery cells” as the firm switches to electric car production.

'Political motives'

Germany's economy minister Peter Altmaier told newspapers in his country that the “compromise on CO2 curbs is at the limit of what is technically and economically possible.”

Germany, backed by several eastern EU countries with auto plants, had sought an emissions cut of only 30 percent.

The European Parliament had wanted a reduction of 40 percent, backed by countries like France, the Netherlands and Ireland.

Concerns were also heard from the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA), which also represents firms in Sweden, France, Britain and other countries.

The target “might sound plausible, but is totally unrealistic based on where we stand today,” ACEA said.

ACEA said the goals flowed from “political motives” that ignored hurdles to consumers buying more electric and other cleaner vehicles, including their high cost and a lack of recharging and refuelling stations.

But it said the association's members will continue to invest in producing alternatively-powered vehicles.

ACEA called on the 28 EU countries and the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, to make “the much-needed investments in infrastructure.”

The association warned that the emissions targets “will have a seismic impact on jobs” in an industry that employs some 13.3 million Europeans.

It urged policy makers to “act swiftly” to present plans that will help workers learn new skills required for building cleaner cars.

Anca Paduraru, a Commission spokeswoman, said in response: “The EU is committed to a socially fair transition leaving no citizens and no regions behind.”

The Commission added it has begun promoting the indigenous production of electric car batteries rather than have Europe import them from countries like China.

It is also looking at setting up a fund by 2027 to retrain workers for electric car production – one drawing on proceeds from penalties.

The new rules call for an interim goal of a 15-percent reduction by 2025.

SEE ALSO: Germany at huge risk of missing 2020 climate targets, government figures show

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German e-scooter startups band together over proposed restrictions

Up until now, there has not been a consensus in the e-scooter industry; everyone is fighting for themselves in a competitive market.

German e-scooter startups band together over proposed restrictions
A man with an e-scooter in Stuttgart in November 2019. Photo: DPA

But now the six largest sharing providers, Lime, Voi, Tier, Jump, Bird and Circ, see their existence threatened by a new proposal and have formed an unprecedented alliance, according to a report in Germany's Business Insider.

READ ALSO: What you think of the rise of electric scooters in Germany

For the first time, Germany is demanding a permit requirement for e-scooters which could significantly restrict their usage, according to the report. The move, part of a package to road traffic regulations, was to be voted on Friday.

How will a permit change the industry?

This would mean in practice that e-scooter startups would have to get a permit from German municipalities before their vehicles – which were officially legalized in Germany in June 2019 – are allowed to hit the streets.

Cities could also attach certain conditions to this permit, such as fleet ceilings, quotas and fees.

Up until now, being able able to park the e-scooters freely is part of the business model of the startups.

Via app, customers can rent and park the mini-motorized vehicles anywhere in the catchment area – the model is called “free-floating” in the jargon of the industry, and is intended to offer flexibility to park the vehicles in public spaces, even in front of the rider's front door.

An e-scooter rider in Cologne. Photo: DPA

READ ALSO: What happens to electric scooters in the colder months?

From the point of view of some cities, including Berlin, free floating causes parking chaos.

As the proposed amendment reads: “The commercial use of, in particular, pedestrian areas by commercial providers of rental electric scooters is increasingly causing traffic problems for other road users in cities and municipalities, in particular for pedestrians and persons with reduced mobility.”

Existence threatened

In a joint position paper, the six e-scooter companies called on the representatives of Germany's Federal Council not to approve the amendment.

“The current proposal allows cities and municipalities to ban e-scooters or rental bikes completely or to impose strict conditions on them,” it read. “Such strict regulation means the end of micro-mobility as an alternative to motorized individual transport.”

They stated that the bureaucratic burden would make the free-floating model so unattractive that only a station-based model – or picking and dropping off e-bikes at a particular station – would be considered by companies. But this in turn would be poorly accepted by the users.

In order to solve the parking chaos on the sidewalks, they see cities themselves as primarily responsible.

“In our view, the basic problem lies in the lack of infrastructure investments,” said Jashar Seyfi, Lime's German head, to Business Insider.

“Car parking spaces would have to be converted into parking spaces for e-scooters – but of course that doesn't make you popular as a politician in Germany as a car nation.”

‘Environmental friendly mobility’

According to Germany's Bundesrat, the amendment of the road traffic regulations serves to “promote sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility”. 

It also would increase the fines for parking and illegal use of sidewalks, ranging from the current  €25 today to up to €100. In addition, new traffic signs with e-scooter symbols are to be introduced.

In addition to e-scooters, greater safety for cyclists and better conditions for car sharing services are also an issue. The Federal Council was to vote on the changes on Friday.

READ ALSO: Fines and speed limits: Germany votes on new traffic rules