What will happen to the combustion engine?

The combustion engine is a real workhorse, one that cannot be easily replaced. Since fossil fuels store a large amount of energy with little weight, these engines can move heavy loads over large distances. Batteries, on the other hand, are heavy and store less energy.

Yet our industry is working hard to replace combustion engines. Over the next three years German companies are investing over 40 billion euros in developing alternative drives. On a global scale, one in three patents in the field of electromobility is from Germany.

The sector is not only working on battery-driven powertrains, but also on fuel cells and renewable “e-fuels”, i.e. synthetic as opposed to fossil gas or diesel, which may make combustion engines emission-neutral. Using these “e-fuels” means there is still a future for the combustion engine in certain applications.

If we want more electromobility, more efficient traffic guidance systems and new mobility services, such as ridesharing, and more rail transport – which we also support – then this needs the relevant planning stage, large investments in the infrastructure and suitable legal preconditions.

The scale of this change can be clearly seen using a few practical questions as an example: How will our supermarkets get their morning deliveries if today’s trucks with their combustion engines are not allowed on the roads? How can public transport and the railways cope with the additional mobility demands in towns and in the country? How do those who currently commute by car get to work? How do we achieve enough charging points for electric cars, also for tenants, for example, and in a quantity that can manage peak traffic in rush hour or at the start of the vacations? As long as this structural change is yet to be resolved, we still need the combustion engine.

But even if we were able to quickly equip cars and trucks in Germany with electric drives, traffic would still not be CO2 neutral. For this to be the case, the electricity used by these vehicles would have to come entirely from renewable energy sources. And we are a long way from reaching this goal at present. Similarly, until a renewable fuel is produced the fuel cell is also not climate neutral.

Thus efficient combustion engines will continue to play a role on the way to sustainable and environmentally friendly mobility. Innovative technologies even allow these engines to consume around 20 percent less. A large percentage of these drives will also be hybrid. And over the long term the combustion engine will have a future as the consumption of “e-fuels” based on renewable energies only release as much CO2 as that generated during the production process.

Throughout all this we must not forget the economic and social consequences of the switch to electromobility. The area of drive systems alone – usually combustions engines until now – creates some 200,000 jobs in Germany. These are at the manufacturers but also among many SME suppliers. Electromobility will change added vale chains, manufacturing processes and employment itself. Mammoth transformations are already taking place inside the factories.

The smaller the company affected and the larger its reliance on the combustion engine, the greater is the challenge when it comes to entering electromobility. And many jobs are at stake here. These companies need time to concretize the processes on site and to meet their responsibilities as employers.

Politicians need to accompany this complex process of transformation in an intelligent manner, otherwise social condemnations are to be feared. The target must be to compensate for the loss of jobs in the manufacture of traditional combustion engines by way of as many new jobs as possible. However, this is not achieved by suddenly ceasing with the combustion engine, but by way of a rational and planned transfer.

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