„Achieving CO2 Targets More Efficiently with More Flexibility and Technological Openness“

International Engine Congress Discusses the Future Significance of the Combustion Engine

What kind of future does the combustion engine still have? With which fuels and in which applications? The agenda of the 11. International Engine Congress 2024 on February 27 and 28 in Baden-Baden promises lively discussions. In a keynote speech, Benjamin Krieger, Secretary General of the European Association of Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA), will address strategies for efficient CO2 reduction. In advance, he answers our questions in an interview.

Mr. Krieger, your keynote speech is entitled: "Reducing CO2 emissions in transport. Are we using all the solutions?" Without anticipating the speech, what is your answer?

Benjamin Krieger: No, unfortunately not! It is important for me to emphasize that the automotive suppliers that we represent as CLEPA are 100% behind the goal of reducing CO2 emissions in the mobility sector and achieving climate neutrality in the long term. Reducing emissions affects the use phase of vehicles just as much as production.

Of course, electrification must and will play an important role in the use phase on this path. We see numerous applications in which electrification can be the better technical alternative. However, there are also many applications where electrification may not yet be the right solution, or possibly not at all. In my view, however, focusing solely on battery-electric drives unfortunately means that many opportunities for achieving climate targets remain untapped.

Which approach would you prefer instead?

Benjamin Krieger: In order to find out what works economically, we have a very good tool that has provided valuable services over the past decades: the interaction between the users of mobility solutions and those who provide the technology. However, the market is currently trusted far too little.

Of course, the framework conditions must be created so that the new technologies that help us to reduce and eliminate CO2 emissions from the production of vehicles and from the mobility sector can become established. To do this, we need the necessary infrastructure for electrification – and we especially need green electricity in sufficient quantities and reliable availability, which is easier said than done.

It is therefore legitimate and sensible to consider what other technical options could complement electrification, such as e-fuels and bio-fuels. In my view, it is important not to exclude these options politically. Unfortunately, this is exactly what we are doing with the current path. We are pursuing the 100 percent target for passenger cars by 2035, i.e. the end of the combustion engine. The regulations only measure what comes out of the exhaust pipe – regardless of whether it is additional CO2 emissions or the net CO2 in the cycle.

What expectations do you have of the drive system in the car of tomorrow?

Benjamin Krieger: In the passenger car segment in particular, we are currently on a very narrow technological path. Electrification is permitted, either with the battery or with the fuel cell. However, we are facing major issues with both technologies, firstly with regard to the expansion of the necessary infrastructure and secondly with regard to the availability of raw materials for the battery cells. 

In recent years, we have had a very intensive and important discussion about the strategic importance of supply chains and have found that dependence or reliance on a few key suppliers can pose a major risk. If we look at where the raw materials for batteries or, if we are honest, the majority of battery cells come from, it is primarily China. Wouldn't it be appropriate to ask ourselves how we can create more options with hydrogen and renewable fuels, for example?

In your opinion, do the opportunities or the risks outweigh the current path to the electrification of mobility? What are the implications for the European economies, for suppliers and for the labor market?

Benjamin Krieger: I am not an economist myself, but I have read many opinions from economists on the subject. They say that if we set very strict regulatory requirements and leave very little to the market, there is a great risk that the resulting solutions will not be the most efficient. In other words, this path threatens to be more expensive than necessary – and the people will end up having to pay for it.

A study commissioned by us came to the conclusion that up to 500,000 jobs could be lost in the European automotive supply industry by 2040. Even if we succeed in establishing a high level of vertical integration for battery cells in Europe, 276,000 jobs would still be affected.

As CLEPA, we are clearly committed to the European location. But it is also clear that it is becoming increasingly difficult. A current challenge for the supplier industry is that both margins and volumes are getting smaller and smaller. More support is therefore needed – and explicitly not just financial support – in order to be able to make the necessary investments for the transformation, to research and develop and to operate competitively in Europe.

Technology bans will not help us here – instead, we would like to see more openness to technology from the political side and significantly more flexibility. The central goal remains to reduce CO2 emissions – whether with green electricity or thanks to renewable fuels.

What chances do you see for e-fuels and hydrogen technologies? And how would you respond to critics who say that these technologies have no chance anyway?

Benjamin Krieger: If you assume that nobody would use the technologies, then there would be no need to ban them by law. Instead, if we allow and politically promote technological openness, we would see which path proves to be economically successful – and which does not. We would not be taking any risks and nobody would be obliged to do anything. 

The best example of this is renewable fuels: with a gradually increasing proportion of blending, we would have the opportunity to reduce CO2 emissions even in the existing fleet. When it comes to effective ways to achieve climate neutrality, I believe that we should not leave this potential untapped.

How much future will the combustion engine have?

Benjamin Krieger: The legal situation is currently clear. It remains to be seen whether this will change in the coming years and what possible reviews at EU level will reveal.

For me, one thing is certain: anything that leads to a reduction in emissions should be used consistently. At the same time, we will continue to need mobility in the future, if only to supply the population. It will certainly be possible to electrify some of the truck traffic – but by no means all of it. Fortunately, the EU Commission has also recognized this and has defined the CO2 standards for heavy commercial vehicles somewhat more openly than for passenger cars. 

Diversity in drive technologies would be desirable not only for commercial vehicles, but also for passenger cars. The suppliers organized in CLEPA serve all technologies – including battery electric vehicles, of course. If we disregard the well-known capacity problem in battery cell production, we can provide all the other technologies needed for an electric car from European production, whether electronics, thermal management or battery management. For good reason, there is a lot of European technology in electric vehicles worldwide.

However, I have the feeling that we are still focusing exclusively on electrification. Instead, we should focus much more on the actual goal, including for existing fleets. And that goal is to achieve a rapid and efficient reduction in CO2 emissions.

About the person:

Source: CLEPA

Benjamin Krieger

Secretary General of the European Association of Automotive Suppliers (CLEPA)