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France, Germany push back against EU banning combustion cars by 2035

PARIS — France is resisting the European Union effectively phasing out combustion-engine car sales by 2035, advocating for a more lenient target for the end of the decade and a longer leash for plug-in hybrid models.

The French government backs a target to reduce emissions from cars 55 percent by 2030 from 2021 levels and for hybrids to remain on the market for longer, an official in President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.

The European Commission is expected to unveil on Wednesday plans to require emissions to fall by 65 percent from 2030 and drop to zero from 2035.

The French official, who asked not to be identified, commented after Macron met with top executives at auto companies including Stellantis and Renault, suppliers Valeo, Faurecia and Plastic Omnium, as well as labor representatives to discuss the transition to electric vehicles.

German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer also warned the commission against setting too strict targets for the auto industry.

“I believe that all car and truck manufacturers are aware that stricter specifications are coming. But they have to be technically feasible,” he told the German press agency DPA.

Scheuer said he supported the shift to battery-powered drivetrains for passenger cars as fossil fuel combustion engines are phased out. For heavy trucks “there needs to be more focus on hydrogen,” he said.

The French and German positions could signal a battle is brewing within the EU over new climate targets and how they will affect the auto industry.

The effective ban on combustion engines by 2035 is part of an ambitious plan to align the region’s economy with more aggressive climate targets. It would also mean a faster phasing-out of hybrids than some executives and labor officials expected.

The new EU emission targets would be significantly stricter than existing fleet-wide goals requiring a 37.5 percent emissions reduction by 2030. While the auto industry has been bracing for tougher rules, the meeting with Macron was part of an effort to gain support for a slower phasing out of combustion engines.

La Plateforme Automobile, or PFA, France’s main lobby group for the industry, estimates 17.5 billion euros ($21 billion) in investment is needed in the country by the middle of the decade to develop batteries, charging stations, hydrogen and related services.

The phasing out of combustion engines could lead to a loss of roughly 100,000 auto jobs in France through 2035 and the shutdown of manufacturing sites, according to a PFA presentation. The industry directly employs about 190,000 people currently.

Production of electric and fuel cell vehicles is less labor-intensive compared with hybrids and those with diesel or gasoline engines, the PFA said. France lags countries including Germany, Japan and the U.S. in terms of the number of robots used by the auto industry, and French workers are more expensive than their counterparts in eastern and southern European countries.

Bloomberg contributed to this report