Daimler Will Pull the Plug on Gasoline, Diesel Engines, Focus on EVs

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The benchmark for the auto industry, Daimler, is giving up on the internal combustion engine to develop electrically powered vehicles. Daimler will stop development of any new internal combustion engines, gasoline or diesel. The parent of Mercedes-Benz recently released a new family of internal combustion engines. Those, reportedly, will be the last new engines. They’ll be tweaked, refined, and re-engineered for years, probably decades, but there won’t be all-new engines.

The story was broken by the German magazine Auto Motor und Sport (click for a very good translation). It quotes chief of development Markus Schaefer saying Daimler has no plans to develop a next-generation combustion engine. Daimler was preceded last year by Volkswagen, which said it would develop no new engine families beyond those already in the works for 2026. Engine families last anywhere from a decade to a half-century. That doesn’t mean the fun is over. You’ll still have great cars to drive at the limit if you wish (top image). EVs will have plenty of power, too, and great suspensions, if that’s what customers want.

Mercedes-Benz EQC 400 4MATIC electric vehicle.

Many automakers have made statements to the effect that by X-year (somewhere between 2020 and 2025), every new car line will offer electrification. An all-new, not refreshed, model happens every 5-7 years. The new model will offer a hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or electric version of the car in addition to the combustion engine version. So “electrified” doesn’t mean the only choice beyond gasoline will be EV.

Volkswagen Group last fall and now Daimler have made forward-looking end-of-life projections for their internal combustion engines. Part of this is projecting ahead to a carbon-neutral world by 2050. To get there, the final combustion-engine cars would be produced circa 2040. With the average life of a car about 11 years (at least in the US), by 2050 half the combustion engine cars would be gone. Transportation accounts for about 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions globally (about 30 percent in the US).

All this assumes climate change and global warming is real. Not everyone agrees but climate scientists say so almost unanimously. The other big issue is whether motorists are ready to buy EVs. In the US, the penetration is about 2 percent, and most of those vehicles were sold with available $ 7,500 federal tax credits and typically with state credits, too. There are also concerns/scare stories about how key elements in lithium-ion batteries may come only from cars not friendly to the US and western countries.

Daimler AG and BMW Group are working jointly on autonomous driving. Will they also work jointly on electrification?

Daimler’s expectation is that by 2030 half its cars sold will be electrics or hybrids — which is different from 100 percent of that half is all-electric. (Lots of stories say hybrids and PHEVs are not expected to be a big part of the electrification mix, but a) it’s unclear how much that’s author bias vs. expertise and b) as interim vehicles PHEVs reduce the carbon footprint and get users ready for ful EVs.)

But that all depends on buyer demand. There has been a perspective that while US buyers are uncertain about EVs but Europeans are more upbeat. Then at the Frankfurt motor show, there was considerable private discussion about whether Europeans were eager to go electric soon. The hope is that attitudes will change as the cost of EVs comes down, as the number of charging stations increases (and charge times drop), and as subsidies continue, more EVs get sold.

EVs make more sense for urban areas, and the United Nations projects 68 percent of the world’s population will be in urban areas by 2050. Now, about 55 percent are. That also means big cities need to develop a charging infrastructure for the majority who don’t have private, electrified garages.

Auto Motor und Sport concludes its story:

The share of newly registered electric cars in Germany is still tiny despite constant growth. But there is no sign of a back: If now the big car companies, even if at times, say goodbye to the elaborate and expensive development of internal combustion engines, everyone should realize that an epoch ends. But no one claims that this is the end of all drive developments. As Daimler says: The car will change more in the next ten years than in the 100 years before. Engineers are working every day to improve electric drives and are also looking for technically even better alternatives every day. The exit from the combustion engine development is a clear signal for the development and not for the end of the car.

While the haters gonna hate EVs, it may turn out that electrification makes cars better in almost every way, including safety and performance. Hand-in-hand with electrification will be autonomous driving, with the expectation of far greater safety. Self-driving cars will be voluntary at first, followed by bonuses for driving autonomously (HOV lanes are converted to self-drive lanes), with a fuzzy future for if or when self-driving is mandated on some roads.

There is no question that, in the very long term, we will all be driving electric vehicles. But when? That’s less certain. While the scrappage rate is 11 years in the US (half of all cars scrapped by that age), about 20 percent of cars and trucks on the road are more than 15 years old, says IHS Markit.

BMW, another of the world’s leading automakers, sees gas and diesel going away but over a longer period of time. Klaus Froelich, BMW Group board member for development, told Automotive News Europe in June that it will continue investing in new combustion engines for the foreseeable future with the phase-out of diesel engines happening over the next 20 years (circa 2040) and gasoline engines over 30 years (2050). Froelich said EV penetration may be delayed, because of inadequate recharging infrastructure, in three areas: Russia most everywhere, the oil-rich Middle East, and western/internal China.

For their varied timelines to going all-electric, Daimler, VW, and BMW may all be driven less by their internal calculations than by how hard they’re pushed by government and world governing bodies, which may, in turn, be driven by customer demand for affordable cars or for stable temperatures.

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