BERLIN -- Germany has formed an alliance with Italy and some Eastern European countries opposing the planned phase-out of internal combustion engines from 2035 unless cars running on e-fuels are exempted from the ban.
Transport ministers from Germany, Italy, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania, Hungary and Slovakia met on Monday to discuss changes to the European Union plans.
German transport minister Volker Wissing said skepticism about phasing out internal combustion vehicles was shared by Italy, Poland and the Czech Republic, among others.
Berlin is in talks with Brussels and is seeking a resolution “as soon as possible” before it can sign off on any deal, Wissing told reporters on Monday in Strasbourg.
"The proposal needs changes urgently," Wissing said.
He said the group of countries wants a separate category of combustion-engine cars that could run on synthetic, carbon-neutral e-fuels, after 2035.
"A ban on the combustion engine, when it can run in a climate-neutral way, seems a wrong approach for us," Wissing said on Monday.
Volkswagen and Porsche are developing e-fuels and have argued they could be an alternative to electrification in some segments of the auto industry. Wissing said vehicles running on e-fuels only should be exempt from the planned ban.
"We do not want to stop things, nor do we want them to fail in the end," Wissing said. "We want the regulation to succeed — we need climate neutrality — but we have to remain technology-open, anything else is not a good option for Europe."
New proposal to come
Czech Transport Minister Martin Kupka said the European Commission may table a legally-binding proposal on e-fuels in the coming weeks.
"The information was that it will be in the next days or in the next two weeks to find a solution for this exemption for e-fuels," Kupka said. "It is necessary to find a solution.
The ICE ban, the EU's main tool to speed up Europe's shift to electric vehicles, was put on hold earlier this month after last-minute opposition from Germany. That surprised policymakers in Brussels and other member states because EU countries and the European Parliament had already agreed to a deal on the law last year.
The EU says the 2035 date is crucial because the average lifespan of new cars is 15 years – so a later ban would stop the EU reaching net zero emissions by 2050, the global milestone scientists say would avert disastrous climate change. Transport accounts for around a quarter of EU emissions.
But cars hold outsize importance in Germany, where the auto industry employs about 800,000 people and has revenue of about 411 billion euros ($441 billion), making it the largest segment of the economy by far.
Proponents of e-fuels say they are essentially renewable electricity that has been converted into a combustible, liquid fuel using CO2 captured from the atmosphere.
Critics say that e-fuels are a waste of renewable energy and should be saved for harder-to-decarbonize uses, while some parts of industry also worry that it could create regulatory uncertainty.
Bloomberg contributed to this report