Germany looks to electric cars after VW diesel scandal

Keith Laing
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — German government officials and representatives from the country’s biggest automakers touted their work on boosting the adoption of electric cars in the Europe and the U.S.

The talk, which took place at the Washington Auto Show on Tuesday, occurred on the heels of the prosecution of one of Germany’s biggest automakers, Volkswagen, for cheating on federal emission standards with its so-called clean-diesel cars.

Federal regulators have forced Volkswagen to spend $2 billion to speed the adoption of electric cars in the U.S. as part of its punishment for the diesel fraud. German officials now point to electric cars as the wave of the future.

Peter Witting, the German ambassador to the U.S., said during a panel that was hosted by the German Embassy that it has “simply become a necessity” for the U.S. and Germany to invest in electric transportation because they are countries “where cars and the oil industry play a crucial role.”

Electric-vehicle supporters fretted during the most recent tax debate in Washington about the Trump administration pulling the plug on a tax credit that is designed to boost the sales of electric cars in the U.S., although the credit ultimately survived the passage of the sweeping tax legislation.

Witting said Tuesday that Germany’s support for electric cars will not be affected by political transitions in that country. “The German political parties, that are currently forming a new government, will remain on this course and e-mobility plays and will play an ever more important and growing role in this,” he said.

Representatives for German automakers who participated in the discussion called for the U.S. and German governments to do more to boost the adoption of electric cars, such as increasing the number of charging stations that are available on public roads and taking steps to ensure that future self-driving cars are operated on electric battery platforms.

“Government needs to incentivize the autonomous vehicle to be zero-emission... not just electric vehicles, but fuel-cell vehicles need to be part of this conversation also,” William Craven, senior manager for regulatory affairs for Daimler of North America, said.

Craven also noted that customers will have to be convinced to buy more electric cars. “Customers are very happy with what they drive today, so it’s going to have be government policy that drives it,” he said.

Charlie Yankitis, director of business development of Bosch EV Soutions, added that policy makers will have to do more to increase the number of charging stations that are available on public roads, although he said most electric car owners will likely be charging their vehicles at home.

“That’s a big part of the puzzle to get the consumer interested in the electric vehicle, when they know that they can get a charging station at home at very reasonable price, or in some cases no cost,” he said.

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing