"The automotive industry is not being seen in the right light"

Volkswagen CEO Dr. Herbert Diess has criticized EU politics‘ dealing with CO₂-standards and coal power, counselling against simplified accusations in the climate protection field. We are documenting excerpts from the interview with "Süddeutsche Zeitung".

The chairman of the board management of Volkswagen Group, Dr. Herbert Diess, has criticized the EU environment ministers’ tightening CO2 standards by 2030 as a drastic measure, resulting in threatening disadvantages for German car manufacturers in global competition. According to Diess, the now agreed 35 percent cut in car emissions means “a painful revolution instead of a manageable transition".  If Volkswagen was to reduce the CO2 emissions of its fleet by 30 per cent by 2030, approximately a third of purely electric cars would come onto the roads, Diess explained. “If the transport sector were to be lowered to 40 per cent, then in 2030 more than half of the vehicles would have to be entirely electric. The transformation at that speed and with its implications is barely manageable, as within ten years approximately a quarter of the jobs in our plants would then disappear – a total of around 100,000 jobs".

Diess asked politicians to really give some thought about frameworks for a future-compliant European car industry. “An industry such as ours can be destroyed a lot quicker than a lot of people would like to believe. Take a look at the automotive industry in Italy or Great Britain: it practically no longer exists. Detroit has also once had a blooming industry that provided a high standard of living. The USA and China see an opportunity to diminish our dominant position concerning the car of the future. And they are making good progress. I see our chances of retaining our leading position as 50:50".

At the same time, Diess referred to political dealing with coal power. “We are investing billions in the electrification of our fleet, because we think that’s the right way. And then we are developing capacities for by far the most environmentally damaging method of power generation: brown coal. (…) A large, brown-coal power station emits as much CO2 as nine million diesel cars". Diess declared as "completely incomprehensible that today people are even thinking about expanding a brown-coal mining area", expressing his sympathy for the demonstrators at Hambach forest. "It doesn’t make any sense at all to bring electric cars onto the roads if at the same time we are generating the electricity to power them from brown coal. We would then be driving using coal instead of oil and be producing more CO2 than we do today".

In this regard, Diess also emphasized the key role of modern Diesel drives for climate protection. "In terms of the CO2 balance, electric cars will not be able to keep up with diesels in Germany over long distances for the foreseeable future. Because the truth is: you are not going electric, but are switching to coal power. This is due to the electricity mix. When you produce a battery using coal-generated electricity, then you have already created five tonnes of CO2 just by making the battery. And if you then drive using coal-generated electricity on top of that, e-mobility really does become nonsense".

Concerning driving bans for elder Diesel vehicles, Diess warned of exaggerated scaremongering "There is absolutely no reason for driving bans. Nitrogen oxide pollution has been reduced by 70 per cent since 1990, even though traffic has increased by 50 per cent. In the last year alone, the situation has improved by 12 per cent, even in particularly heavily polluted cities like here in Stuttgart. This means that the problem in cities is being perspectively resolved by fleet renewal. Diesels are improving from one generation to the next".

Against this background, Diess called to mind the car manufacturers’ various efforts and offers. "We bought and scrapped more than 210,000 vehicles fitted with Euro-4 diesel engines or older last year. New, clean cars have now replaced these on the roads". Again, the chairman of the board of directors promoted the software updates offered by Volkswagen, immediately achieving 25 to 30 per cent less nitrogen oxide – and at a much cheaper price: "100 euros as opposed to 3,000 euros for the upgrade".

In contrast, the costly upgrade – ten technician hours – for the installation of new SCR catalytic converters may even end up being counterproductive, Diess stated. He quoted a recent study from the Jülich research centre showing that storage catalysts work better in the cold, whereas the newer SCR catalytic converters in the engine require a starting temperature of 250 degrees. "They therefore don’t work properly when running in cities because the engine temperature is too low". At the same time, Diess announced "very attractive offers for customers who want to exchange their vehicles. For example, you can exchange a used, 10-year-old, Euro-4 Passat for a newer, used petrol car. The calculation would look like this: a residual value of around 6,000 euros, plus a 4,000-euro exchange premium and very reasonable finance for the new car, if required".

Diess criticized public perception as being determined by emotional misinterpretations and wild accusations. "In the public eye, there is one culprit for nitrogen oxide: cars and the car industry. (…) This is convenient because nobody asks whether the communities themselves are doing enough to improve air quality for the public. In contrast, Volkswagen is spending more than 34 billion euros on electrification and other technologies", Diess emphasized. "After Tesla, we are the mobility company that has committed the most to e-mobility. I therefore think that the automotive industry is not being seen in the right light, by politicians neither".

The CEO also self-critically admitted that the auto industry reacted too late on the air quality problem throughout the cities. "We should have seen sooner that, although nitrogen oxide figures were falling, they were not falling fast enough. Nevertheless targets would be hit mostly nowadays. In most of the critical locations we will meet the target in a few years as well, meaning that there will be a delay only in a few cities. That’s not good, but it’s not a substantial problem, because it is clear that we will achieve it".

Source: Volkswagen AG

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