FRANKFURT - Germany will back a national oil-auto research initiative into alternatives to petroleum fuel.
Three German-based automakers, the national electric utility and two oil companies, Shell and Aral, agreed to work together with the ministry for traffic. Neither disclosed the scale of its investment in the initiative.
A recommendation is expected by the end of next year.
The program unites oil and auto companies, which have fought a running battle over reducing sulfur in petroleum fuels. Just days before the cooperation agreement was announced on 11 May, engine developers from VW, BMW and Daimler-Benz criticized European oil companies at the Vienna Motor Symposium in Austria.
They demanded a sharp reduction in the sulfur content of auto fuels. Sulfur destroys the catalysts necessary to make gasoline direct-injection engines effective.
The joint program will examine three alternatives for cost and environmental impact: hydrogen or natural gas engines; electric motors with either battery or fuel cell; and hybrid engines.
But the partners do not have a clear strategy yet. At this point they only agree that manufacturers, politicians and energy suppliers need to work together.
'There is no guarantee for success,' said Horst Teltschik, BMW board member. 'But we have to begin. We have to find solutions to stay globally competitive, and we can only find these in cooperation with politicians and the industry.'
Teltschik said that he first proposed the idea to Germany's ecology minister Andrea Merkel in 1995. 'I am happy that the government has taken up this suggestion again.'
BMW Chairman Bernd Pischets-rieder said in March that real progress in environmental areas can occur only 'if the oil industry makes sufficient contributions.'