BERLIN -- The European Commission will propose an absolute cutoff date after which all automakers will have to stop selling combustion-powered cars in the EU, its president, Ursula von der Leyen, said.
Even though a dozen European automakers had already announced they would switch to zero-emissions cars between 2028 and 2035, a legal cutoff date was still needed, Von der Leyen said in an interview with Germany's Sueddeutsche Zeitung.
"We will still set out an end date after which all cars will have to be emissions free," she said, without naming that date. "Otherwise there will be a lack of certainty and we won't achieve our goal of climate neutrality by 2050."
"How they change their production is up to the manufacturers," von der Leyen said. "They know best how to develop new cars or new fuels."
The commission, the EU's executive arm, will set the date of 2035 requiring zero emissions from new cars sold in Europe, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported on Wednesday.
The commission also will toughen its CO2 emissions reduction target for 2030, the paper said. Automakers will have to cut fleet emissions by 55 percent compared with 2021. The current plan is for a 37.5 percent reduction by the end of the decade.
The commission will unveil its "Fit for 50" climate package on Wednesday. The package will face months of negotiations between member states and the European Parliament and is likely to be the target of ferocious lobbying efforts by the many industries affected.
EU emissions from road transport have increased in recent years, and the new measures aim to pull the sector in line with the bloc's overall strategy of getting to net zero emissions by 2050.
Low-emission car sales surged in Europe last year, even as the COVID-19 pandemic hit overall vehicle sales, and one in every nine new cars sold was an electric or plug-in hybrid.
Full electrification is still a long way off, however. Even when buyers are able to afford the considerable price premium for a part- or all-electric vehicle, many have been deterred by "range anxiety" due to a lack of public charging stations.
Automakers have telegraphed that they will accept tougher emission targets only in return for huge public investment in chargers, and there are signs that they have been heard.
Brussels is expected to propose legislation that would require countries to install public charging points at set distances along major roads.
"An end date for internal combustion engines increases the pressure that the EU and the member states have to take care of the development of the charging infrastructure," said Patrick Hummel, an analyst at UBS. "It cannot be that the automobile manufacturers have to set up the charging stations on their own."
European automakers have invested heavily in plug-in hybrids, which have both combustion engines and electric motors, as a way of addressing this problem in the medium term.
But with the green credentials of hybrid cars increasingly being challenged, they fear that much of this investment will be wasted if they are pushed to phase them out too soon.
AlixPartners estimates that for 2021 through 2025, automakers and suppliers globally will invest $330 billion in electrification, up 41 percent from its estimate of $250 billion for the period from 2020 to 2024.