Handelsblatt Interview

EU commissioner says diesel is archaic

Diesel cars are running out of fuel. Source: Hendrik Schmidt / DPA

Source: Hendrik Schmidt / DPA

One of Europe’s commissioners in charge of car industry regulations had a sobering message for European automakers: Diesel is from a bygone era. In an interview with Handelsblatt, EU Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said she would push carmakers to sell more emission-free vehicles.

“A few years ago I would never have said diesel is a technology of the past. Now, after these two educational years, I am ready to say it openly,” Ms. Bienkowska said. “Diesel is a thing of the past.”

Her message could have major repercussions for the industry. Diesel car sales make up almost 40 percent of total new car sales in Europe, but they have been in decline since last year in the wake of VW’s diesel emissions scandal. And potential or planned diesel car bans in European cities have especially hit the fuel’s reputation.

Stuttgart and Munich, home to Mercedes-maker Daimler and BMW, respectively, are considering banning diesel cars from their city centers. Meanwhile, other European cities, such as Paris, Amsterdam and Oslo, already have diesel bans in place, blocking old vehicles at all times or during heavy smog days. Some are planning to ban diesel cars altogether by 2025 or 2030.

Ms. Bienkowska said she principally opposes banning cars, because it only punishes drivers and not manufacturers. At the same time, the 53-year-old said Europe’s industry must do more to sell emission-free vehicles. “I think and feel it that this is the only way for me to act. We need to push them,” she said. “Look at the plans of the car producers and the statements that their associations are giving. These are two completely different things. The car producers are much more ambitious, but their associations want to keep things as they are.”

Together with some colleagues from the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, Ms. Bienkowska passed new climate regulations earlier this month that require manufacturers to produce cars that emit less carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. The EC warned European carmakers that they risk losing out to US and Asian rivals in zero- and low-emission vehicles. Even upstarts such as Tesla and China’s BYD are now competing with VW, Peugeot and GM.

Ms. Bienkowska said the industry was transforming much quicker than previously thought. “Before the diesel things occurred, most of the car producers were thinking of a few percent of the car fleet to be produced to be non-emissions cars,” she said. “Last year they completely rethought what’s going on. So what I think, they are aware (of the changes). But we at the European administration, but also at the national and local one, we need to push them.”

The commissioner’s tough talk towards the industry will not automatically result in strict regulations. She said new emissions targets needed “to be realistic, not give them goals which are completely unachievable.” That’s a small consolation for an industry which could still face hundreds of million of euros in EU fines in 2021 if they fail to meet CO2 reduction targets.

Till Hoppe is a Handelsblatt correspondent in Brussels, covering the European Union. Gilbert Kreijger adapted this article into English for Handelsblatt Global. To contact the author: