Porsche and Ferrari are at the center of an EU debate about a plan to kill the combustion engine — and they are changing the conversation.
The automakers are seeking a carveout for synthetic e-fuels from the EU’s planned 2035 ban on new internal combustion engine vehicles.
While they belong to a narrow segment of the auto industry, Porsche and Ferrari’s status as iconic automakers was enough to move their governments to challenge the EU plan last week just days before a scheduled vote.
A final vote on the 2035 ICE ban was due to take place on March 7, but was indefinitely delayed amid fears that Germany could abstain, which would torpedo the regulation.
The European Commission, Germany, and Italy, which opposes the ban, will hold talks in the coming weeks on how to integrate e-fuel technology into the Commission's proposals.
Germany and Italy's opposition to the ban, after they had earlier agreed to the proposed legislation, shook Brussels, and reopened questions around supposedly climate-neutral e-fuels that have proven too costly for large fleets of vehicles. But it also revealed deeper questions about the economic and social forces at play in Europe’s transition to green tech.
Cars are at the cultural core of Germany, which remains the only European nation with no speed limits on stretches of its famed autobahn — a perennial thorn for environmentalists.
And opposition to the proposed EU law illustrates the nation’s reluctance to bid farewell to some of its quintessential symbols, like Porsche’s 911.
But the efforts to slow the EU law at such a late stage has stoked criticism within the auto industry. With manufacturers pouring billions into bringing electric cars to market, many do not want distractions from an expensive potential alternative.
“I would call it now almost pathetic,” Thomas Ingenlath, CEO of luxury brand Polestar, said in an interview. “The industry and the politicians should finally give that very clear signal about what is the journey ahead.”
While most automakers are pouring tens of billions into the EV shift, Porsche has also invested in an e-fuel plant in Chile, partly because the manufacturer does not plan to make its 911 sports car with an electric option.
Operating combustion-engine vehicles in a climate-neutral way could also help speed up the decarbonization of the transport sector, according to a Porsche spokesman.
Existing vehicle stock should be included in the push to lower CO2 emissions faster, he added.
Ferrari has said it’s pursuing alternative fuels to keep making combustion-engine cars that preserve its heritage.
Proponents of e-fuels say they are essentially renewable electricity that has been converted into a combustible, liquid fuel.
To make it, scientists combine captured carbon dioxide with hydrogen that was split from water in a process powered by renewable energy, creating a synthetic hydrocarbon fuel. When burned in a combustion engine, the e-fuels create carbon dioxide. But since it was made from previously captured CO2, they argue it’s climate neutral.
The technology is attracting particular interest in Germany, where the Fischer-Tropsch process that is still the foundation of e-fuels was invented in 1925. The method allowed Germany’s oil-starved military to create substitute liquid fuels from coal during World War II.
For future German and Italian sports cars, the superior power-density of such fuels, compared to the lithium ion batteries in electric vehicles, would mean automakers can continue to produce lightweight sports cars that are nimble through corners with roaring engines and crackling exhausts.
Formula 1, the world’s premier motor-racing competition, will switch to synthetic fuels for the 2026 season. While the move will not make a dent in the sport’s overall emissions — 99 percent of which come from non-racing car sources like air travel to races across the world — they will help to prove that synthetic fuels can power high-performance automotive engines.