Winterkorn warns EU on overburdening automakers on CO2

Volkswagen CEO, Martin Winterkorn - warns EU on overburdening automakers on CO2

Volkswagen Group CEO Martin Winterkorn (above) warned European regulators that it would be “fatal” to overburden the auto industry with a fresh round of more stringent emission targets before a market can even develop for electric cars, plug-in hybrids and other fuel-efficient models powered by alternative powertrains.While automakers try to conserve resources themselves when building cars in order to save costs, they traditionally drag their feet when it comes to selling cars equipped with expensive green technology when customers prove unwilling to pay for it.

Nonetheless, instead of devoting himself to the products his group is premiering in Paris, Winterkorn spoke almost entirely at a media launch on Wednesday evening about the dangers the auto industry is facing due to an ambitious European Commission that he feels is getting ahead of itself in regulating new targets beyond the 95 grams of CO2 per kilometer agreed for 2020.

“Every gram of CO2 that we save in our European fleet costs our group almost €100 million — 100 million that we have to invest in advance, without knowing when these investments pay off,” Winterkorn said.

“That’s why I worry when Brussels already now starts to cry out for new, more stringent norms for the time after 2020.”

Volkswagen has said it aims to reduce its CO2 exhaust in its new European fleet to 95 g/km by then, after managing to lower emissions to less than the 130 g/km mark for the first time in the past year. Each carmaker has a specific weight-based target they need to reach that can deviate slightly from the overall EU target.

To achieve that, the group premiered a host of new plug-in hybrids in Paris on Wednesday, including the VW Passat GTE, the Porsche Cayenne S E-Hybrid and the supercar concept Lamborghini Asterion plug-in hybrid.

VW also showcased a concept called the XL Sport powered by what it called the most powerful twin-cylinder production engine on the planet, a 200-hp engine found in the 1199 Panigale motorcycle, a model built by Volkswagen unit Ducati.

After the initial hype that surrounded battery-powered electric cars, sales have disappointed due to high costs and limited range. Whether it is the Nissan Leaf, the Renault Zoe or BMW i3, volumes per model in the first eight months of this year number in the thousands in Europe, not tens of thousands, according to JATO Dynamics.

Even taking the anxiety out of the range by coupling the battery with a combustion engine doesn’t necessarily help. Sales of the Opel Ampera, voted Europe’s Car of the Year in 2012, plummeted to less than 600 through August from 1,500 in the previous year.

Plug-in hybrids, the industry’s newest hope in the struggle to meet emission targets, are only now gradually being launched into the market with the BMW i8 and Mercedes-Benz S 500 plug-in hybrid.

As a result, Winterkorn said regulators had to look reality in the eye and accept the fact that carmakers can only make investments when they generate enough of a profit.

“It’s too early for concrete targets. Taking the third step before the first would be fatal,” he warned, urging policymakers to work together with carmakers to make electric cars and plug-ins.

“We cannot allow Europe’s companies to be impeded in global competition and this danger has never been greater.”

Volkswagen, which celebrated its 200th million car produced in Paris, said it sold over 7.5 million cars in the first nine months of this year and is well on its way to reach its 10 million unit target in 2014, four years ahead of schedule.