Catalytic converters, diesel particulate filters, hybrid drivetrains -- the shock of being late on these technologies still runs deep among German automakers.
The proud German auto industry doesn't want to be told again that it didn't recognize an important new trend, so electric drive is being researched everywhere, from Wolfsburg to Ruesselsheim and from Stuttgart to Munich.
That's because it's considered a technology of the future, at least among many politicians and the public. But the industry has stumbled into an eco-trap that easily could threaten some manufacturers' survival.
For many automakers, the billions that they are now spending on electric drivetrains will not be available for the additional development that the internal combustion engine requires.
These powertrains, whether they are efficient gasoline or diesel engines, will be the definitive technology for individual transportation for decades to come.
Expensive parallel work
Since they can't neglect research into the electric cars for image reasons, automakers find it necessary to do expensive parallel development work. The industry must invest in electric drivetrains without neglecting traditional engines.
One look at automakers' most recent balance sheets shows that barely a handful of companies can afford this.
Volkswagen is in the group that can afford the costs, as are Toyota and Hyundai. BMW and Mercedes-Benz can only afford the costs if they put aside their traditional rivalry and summon the will to finally cooperate with each other.
I am no longer sure about Fiat, PSA/Peugeot-Citroen, Renault or the smaller Japanese brands. General Motors and Ford currently have other worries.
GM is focusing strongly on the electric drivetrain but is putting the cart before the horse.
Here you can see a disastrous trend developing, and not just from the standpoint of corporate policy.
Even from an environmental angle, we are playing with fire if we bet solely on the electric car. It will remain insignificant in reducing carbon dioxide emissions for the foreseeable future because of low production volumes.
This is over and above the fact that most electricity comes from fossil fuels and that electric cars are not CO2-free.
More fuel-efficient internal combustion engines are needed to meet the EU's target to reduce average CO2 emissions from new cars sold in Europe to 95 grams per kilometer by 2020.
The electric car and the full hybrid will not make a major contribution to meeting the target, nor will government subsidies in the billions for electric cars.
Guido Reinking is editor of Automobilwoche.