Automotive Industry Asks for More Time to Change to EVs

Andreas Klugescheid, from BMW, Thinks Infrastructure Is Key to Change 5 photos
Photo: Agora Verkehrswende
BMW Group's Electrified Vehicle LineupBMW Group's Electrified Vehicle LineupBMW Group's Electric Vehicle LineupBMW's Electric Vehicle Lineup
If it were up to the market to decide when electric vehicles should be adopted, we would probably burn the last drop of oil on the planet and some synthetic replacement for decades ahead.
When governments started pushing electric mobility, they brought to themselves not only the responsibility to force carmakers to comply. Policymakers also need to make that change work, according to three specialists that discussed the matter.

We had the chance to talk to them thanks to CLEW (Clean Energy Wire). This German journalism organization aims to incentivize news about the energy transition going around worldwide and promoted the digital research tour “The future of the European car industry: the challenge of industrial transformation.” We are among the 15 selected journalists to cover that. Despite the name of the event, the challenge and its outcomes are global.

At the June 15 session, the speakers were Frank Iwer, senior vice president of Human Resources for Germany at ZF Friedrichshafen; Andreas Klugescheid, Head of Governmental Affairs and External Relations Europe, Middle East, and Africa at BMW Group; and Jakub Farys, the president of the PZPM (Polish Automotive Industry Association).

BMW Group's Electrified Vehicle Lineup
Photo: BMW
All three of them agreed that the European Union and local governments need to give them clear rules. Klugescheid put that need this way:

“Concerning the CO2 targets, we need governments to tell us what they want us to achieve, and we will comply. When it comes to zero emissions, we are willing to discuss the infrastructure.”

The BMW executive gave a pretty compelling example of that.

“We have the same lineup all over Europe. In Norway, 80% of our sales are represented by plug-in hybrids or EVs. In Germany, only 15% of our sales are for such vehicles. Norway has incentives, but it also has the infrastructure. No one is going to buy an electric car if they are not sure they can recharge it. We should be talking about the carbon content of fuels instead of about banning the ICE (internal combustion engine).”

Iwer said that ZF is fully booked for the next four years but that the company was also prepared for hybrids to last until 2035 or longer. The bridge they would represent for a smooth change is fastly eroding with the urge to decarbonize vehicles.

“We are not prepared for the speed of change. ZF supplies multiple components, but we have factories that are 100% related to ICE components. They employ 20,000 people. We are thinking about early retirement programs, requalification, but we need time to make it happen. I don’t believe it is possible to change the entire industry in nine years.”

BMW Group's Electric Vehicle Lineup
Photo: BMW
Farys stressed the change to electric mobility would impose other challenges:

“We are talking about powertrains, employment, but we need to remember we are changing multiple aspects of the business, including the way of selling. We have over 100,000 dealerships in Europe. We need the time and the possibility to change.”

Asked if it was not clear enough that the governments want zero emissions, Klugescheid made a remark that shows the issue is more complex than most people can see.

“We talk about technology openers, and new technologies demand money. Companies have a limited amount to invest.”

In other words, it does not have to do with wanting to embark on the EV train or not: you have to be able to afford the ticket. Hugo Spowers, from Riversimple, already said that automakers are only adopting BEVs (battery electric vehicles) because it is a proven tech that exists since the 19th century. Developing fuel cells demands an amount of cash many may not have. BMW wants to include them in its Power of Choice motto, but it is not doing that alone: the German company has partnered with Toyota to investigate their feasibility.
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About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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