Last week, Germany’s Bundesrat approved a resolution that calls for a ban on new internal combustion engine cars by 2030. What does that mean? First of all, the Bundesrat, or federal council, is a deliberative body composed of representatives from all 16 of Germany’s states. Its resolutions do not have the force of law. Second, since Germany is part of the European Union, any law actually banning the sale of ICE vehicles would have to be enacted by the European Commission. Third, Germany is perhaps the most influential member of the EU. Citizens of other countries won’t admit that, but it’s true. What Germany says and does often becomes EU policy sooner or later.
So even though this resolution comes down to little more than an opinion, technically, it is still a sign that the tipping point between conventional cars and zero emissions is rapidly approaching. Germany, home of the iconic autobahn, is steeped in car culture. It is home to several car manufacturers that are famous worldwide for building high-performance automobiles — Porsche, Audi, BMW, and Mercedes. Telling those companies they will no longer be allowed to produce cars with gasoline or diesel engines will cause an enormous change in the world of automobiles — not only in Germany, but around the world.
Sharp-eyed readers will note the proposed ban eliminates plug-in hybrid vehicles as well. Many people assume plug-ins will be the transition technology that bridges the past and the future of mobility. They assumed it would be 2040 or even 2050 before the internal combustion engine was finally relegated to the dustbin of history. The vote in Germany would move that timeline forward by one or two decades.
Europe is still firmly committed to diesel power, thanks in large measure to government policies in place for the past 40 years favoring diesel cars. A second part of the Bundesrat vote calls for elimination of those policies, which range from lower taxes on sales of new diesel automobiles to lower taxes on diesel fuel. The net result is that Europeans have made the diesel engine king. If it costs more to buy and drive a diesel, that may be more important in getting mainstream buyers to switch to zero emissions cars than tax rebates and other incentives that cost central governments lots of money.
The resolution approved by the Bundesrat may be nothing more than a suggestion, but it represents a dramatic shift in attitude away from conventional cars and trucks to a future of electric vehicles with no tail pipe emissions. The impact on German car companies will be profound.
Since German car companies have a powerful influence on the global market, any law banning internal combustion cars would have far-reaching effects in other parts of the world as well. A change is coming. You can feel it in the air. What was once normal will be replaced by something entirely new and it will happen quickly once the the change begins. The German Bundesrat is telling us the change has begun.