E-fuels, lack of technology openness and the future of the German auto industry

_ Interview with Dr. Dirk Spaniel, transport policy spokesman, AfD parliamentary group, German Bundestag. Research Dresden, 23 February 2023.

Within a few years, the European Union and the traffic light coalition in Germany want to switch to electric cars. What’s more, they are propagating a rapid “traffic turnaround,” even though commuters in rural regions are urgently dependent on their cars and it is not to be expected that there will soon be a bus or train connection every ten minutes in all villages. So what is the plan for the future? And what is the actual plan behind this policy? Dr. Dirk Spaniel, the transport policy spokesman for the AfD parliamentary group, provides answers.

Dr. Spaniel, from 2035, no more internal combustion engines are to be permitted in the EU, although it would actually be possible to use e-fuels to make cars largely CO2-neutral. Is there perhaps something other than the climate argument behind this part of the so-called “transformation”?

Dr. Dirk Spaniel: Clearly, with synthetic fuels – or e-fuels – cars with internal combustion engines could continue to be operated in a CO2-neutral manner. In addition, the supply network would already exist via the filling stations, and in times of extremely increased energy costs, this problem would also not come to bear in the form that e-car owners are currently experiencing.

At the same time, the Greens and their stirrup holders in the other parties strictly reject e-fuels despite these very good arguments. This shows me that there are no rational reasons behind this, but ideological ones. The climate argument is certainly partly a pretext. In any case, individual transportation is becoming more and more expensive. What we have experienced in recent decades as freedom to decide for ourselves when, where and how we get around will no longer be affordable for many people – unless we can effectively oppose this policy of lack of freedom throughout Europe.

In your view, what would be the necessary consequence for the civic forces in the European states?

Mobility must remain affordable and one must develop the infrastructure for this type of mobility, which is the most efficient and the most resource-saving. If you take into account the overall costs and also calculate the environmental aspect, there is no getting around road transport. Directing investments into infrastructure and into road traffic leads to efficient mobility and to great economic benefits. That would be the first measure.

The second point is simply to implement open technology. And that is by recognizing synthetic fuels as CO2-neutral. Everything else will follow from that. There will be competition for the best technology. And the electric car will also come under pressure and cost pressure. This will create exactly the competition we need. Personally, I believe that the internal combustion engine will ultimately prevail.

At the time, the German FDP entered the election campaign with a demand for open technology with regard to engine technology, among other things. What is left of this now that the government is in charge?

The FDP even wrote the preservation of the combustion engine and the development of synthetic fuels into its coalition agreement. Nevertheless, they can’t – or won’t? – they cannot get their way. At the European level, FDP Transport Minister Wissing has completely failed. If technology openness and e-fuels had not just been an election campaign phrase, then these points could also be pushed through at the European level. Germany’s role in the EU certainly makes that possible.

Now, in purely mathematical terms, a bourgeois majority is possible in the EU Parliament. What is the background to the other countries’ participation in the transformation and the end of the combustion engine?

In fact, Germany is exerting massive pressure here. A representative of the French Transport Committee, whom I asked explicitly about this, replied that they had not evaluated the draft decisions in detail. It was assumed that the Germans already knew what they were doing.

If the auto industry goes to the wall, at least in Germany, will that also have political repercussions in Europe?

Germany is increasingly becoming a transfer company as a result of this whole development. Transfer societies tend to nationalize. And that is precisely what the European Union is actually striving for: more state control, more transfer payments. And if Germany has to go down this path at the European level because it has gone down this path itself for its own country, then this is definitely in the interest of the Brussels bureaucrats and not necessarily in the interest of the liberal European parties.

How do you see the future of the German automotive industry?

You have to look at the future of the auto industry in different ways. On the one hand, there are large corporations that will relocate their value creation to countries with better conditions. This will lead to massive job losses in Germany and Europe – but not necessarily to negative business results for the respective companies.

But then there are the many supplier companies, which are often medium-sized and do not necessarily have more than 200 employees. They will not be able to simply relocate abroad, but will close down in case of doubt. Ultimately, part of the value added in Europe will then take place even more in the non-manufacturing sector. This in turn will lead to high economic volatility, as state-regulated scenarios will prevail and one of the pillars will be research and development. But you can only develop things whose production processes you also understand and master.

And if the production processes no longer take place in Europe, then it will become a big problem to maintain the GDP in Europe with services. There was a similar effect in the UK.

Now, Italy, France, Spain, the Czech Republic and other European countries also have major players with a relevant auto industry. Do the problems described above apply primarily to Germany or to these countries as well?

The countries mentioned have the advantage that energy costs are lower there than in Germany. That means they can benefit to some extent from the relocations within Europe. But they cannot counteract the relocation outside Europe and are just as affected by it.

Dr. Spaniel, thank you for talking with us.

Translated from the original publication on Research D.

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