German automakers must invest more in electric vehicles and take on U.S. EV maker Tesla, Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief of staff, Peter Altmaier, said.
Altmaier said he was thoroughly disappointed by German auto executives following the diesel-emissions scandal and that he was also thinking about the future of the 600,000 employees in the industry.
"When is our automobile industry, which is so good, actually going to be in a position to build a car that travels 50 kilometers further than a Tesla and costs 10,000 euros less?" Altmaier said at a public forum in Berlin on Saturday. "It must be possible to set this as a goal."
He referred to Tesla cars costing $100,000 with a range of 400 kilometers (250 miles). Tesla’s Germany website shows a Model X Tesla with a range of as much as 417 kilometers selling for 91,250 euros ($109,000). Tesla has added a more affordable vehicle, the Model 3 sedan, which starts at $35,000 and began delivery in July.
"If the automobile industry doesn’t grasp the fact that it has to invest more in electric vehicles, especially in cities, then it will be very hard to defend combustion engines -- gasoline and diesel -- over the long term," Altmaier said. "We must do all we can now, so that the best electric cars are built in Germany."
In the wake of Volkswagen Group's emissions cheating, the future of diesel cars is a campaign issue in Germany's national election on Sept. 24. Merkel and her main opponent, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, have criticized auto executives for jeopardizing the industry's future, while saying they want to avoid driving bans that courts are considering in response to pollution complaints.
VW, Daimler and BMW reached a deal with the government this month to upgrade 5 million newer diesel cars and offer trade-in incentives on older models, but this hasn't eliminated concern about emission levels.
Car buyers have been slow to purchase all-electric models due to concerns about how far the vehicles can travel on a fully charged battery, prices and the time needed to recharge. Merkel conceded in May that Germany won't meet her goal of having 1 million electric autos on the country's roads by 2020.
Among German manufacturers, only BMW currently offers an EV, the i3, that isn't based on a combustion-engine car. Daimler's Mercedes-Benz brand and VW outlined plans a year ago to produce all-new battery-only models by the end of the decade to challenge Tesla.