MUNICH -- Whatever emerges from talks between the German federal government and the country's automakers on how to promote electric cars, it's already clear that the environment won't benefit much unless a lot more electricity is generated in a greener way.
It's also doubtful whether government aid for electric vehicles will boost the industry.
The race to offer subsidies for electric mobility among European countries that have significant auto production has become absurd.
Even countries such as Spain, which has almost been made bankrupt by the economic crisis, are spending billions on subsidies for electric cars.
The reasons lie mostly in the failed industrial policies of the past. In the UK, half of the country's manufacturing jobs have disappeared over the past 10 years, including many jobs in the auto industry, particularly with the collapse of the Rover group, the country's last homegrown volume automaker.
Now the British government hopes to use electric vehicles to regain lost ground. UK politicians appear ready to issue a blank check to every automaker that announces it will put an electric car on the road.
The motivation in Spain appears to be similar. Since Spain joined the EU, wages and logistics costs in this former low-cost country have increased so much that there's no longer an economic justification to build cars there.
By subsidizing electric vehicles, Spain apparently hopes that automakers such as General Motors, Ford Motor and Volkswagen will continue to build cars in the country.
Automakers' plea distorts competition
German automakers are telling Chancellor Angela Merkel that with other countries pledging billions for electric mobility, Berlin must boost its commitment of 600 million euros ($798 million).
That is an extreme distortion of competition.
If electric cars do find lots of buyers -- which is extremely doubtful -- the subsidy bill will increase in proportion.
In the past 10 years or so German customers have scorned a VW car that used just three liters of fuel per 100 kilometers (about 78 miles per U.S. gallon). They have turned their noses up at the ultra low-weight aluminum Audi A2 and shown little enthusiasm for Toyota's Prius hybrid.
In future buyers will gaze in wonder at the first electric cars in showrooms. Salespeople will explain technical data to them.
Customers will nod admiringly, then ask: “So where are the regular cars?”