The transport transition in Europe is facing headwinds. After the Union and the FDP, the Sahra Wagenknecht alliance is now also campaigning against the end of new cars with combustion engines in the European Union from 2035.

“In the European election campaign, the BSW will demand the reversal of the resolutions and more research into more fuel-efficient combustion engines,” said party founder Sahra Wagenknecht of the German Press Agency. However, experts warn of uncertainty among consumers and the auto industry if the lengthy debate is reopened.

The EU states and the European Parliament sealed the end of new cars with diesel and gasoline engines from 2035 a year ago. Specifically, new cars will no longer be allowed to emit carbon dioxide, as is produced by burning gasoline and diesel. Exceptions are being considered for so-called e-fuels, which do not pollute the atmosphere with additional CO2. As things stand today, electric cars are the most cost-effective way to meet future requirements. However, they are still significantly more expensive than combustion engines.

“A serious mistake”

The CSU European politician Manfred Weber recently said “that the ban on combustion engines was a serious industrial policy mistake from which China benefits.” They want to “heal this after the European elections,” said the party and parliamentary group leader of the European People’s Party.

Wagenknecht made a similar statement: “The fact that the EU has sealed the end of the combustion engine and thus paved the way for the triumph of Chinese battery cars in Europe is an example of the overreach and incompetence of the current EU institutions.”

The German car industry is world class when it comes to combustion engines. “With the permanent production of fuel-saving cars, the domestic industry with its unique know-how and hundreds of thousands of well-paid jobs could be protected,” said Wagenknecht. The aim is “a new generation of combustion engines that breaks all efficiency records”.

However, the EU goal of transport without any additional emissions from 2050 would hardly be achievable even with extremely economical combustion engines. In addition, the German auto industry has now invested billions in the production of electric cars or has announced such investments.

“A critical situation”

“We are in a critical situation,” said auto expert Stefan Bratzel, who heads the Center of Automotive Management (CAM) in Bergisch Gladbach. Some manufacturers and suppliers have prepared for the end of combustion engines and have already made major investments. That’s why all developments that put security in this regard into question to some extent are bad.

The end of combustion engines only works if the general conditions such as charging points, car prices and operating costs develop in the right direction at the right speed. The market ramp-up is proving to be more difficult than expected, said Bratzel. Politics must provide clear guidance. Uncertainties – including among consumers – are poison, said the expert.

Different tones can be heard from the German auto industry. The Volkswagen Group is positioning itself against moving away or softening the combustion engine phase-out in 2035. BMW, on the other hand, does not want a fixed phase-out date. Mercedes-Benz boss Ola Källenius recently highlighted the carmaker’s “strategic flexibility” when it comes to combustion engines, after years of emphasizing the carmaker’s ambitions in terms of e-mobility.

Weak registration numbers for electric cars

The fact is: Buyers are currently holding back on e-cars, especially since government funding has stopped. The number of newly registered battery cars has been decreasing for months. The federal government’s goal of having at least 15 million battery-powered cars on German roads by 2030 is a long way off.

According to the Federal Motor Transport Authority, almost 1.41 million purely battery-operated electric vehicles were registered in Germany as of January 1st. According to a Forsa survey for Targobank, 68 percent of the 1,000 respondents would currently prefer a combustion engine to an electric car when buying a car (2023: 72 percent).

So is the transport transition in Europe shaky? The legal act on the ban on combustion engines states that the EU Commission will review in 2026 what effects the law has and what progress has been made. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen (CDU) emphasized in February: “I think it is often forgotten that an inventory and a review will take place in 2026.” Some took it as a suggestion that the decision could be reversed.