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The End of Combustion

The End of Combustion is closer than we think. Laws will soon come into force that will ban the sale of Diesel and Petrol cars. For example, Norway wants to ban the sale of combustion vehicles as early as 2025. American President Biden has signed an executive order for 2035 and the EU will introduce a sales ban from 2035. At the climate conference in Glasgow, almost 40 countries agreed to ban internal combustion engines from 2035. Among them are even countries like Japan.

End of combustion by 2035
End of combustion by 2035

Country Bans

These are the years when the sale of combustion engines will be partly or fully banned:

🇪🇺 Europe: 2035

🇩🇪 Germany: 2030

🇬🇧 UK: 2030

🇳🇴 Norway: 2025

🇮🇹 Italy: 2035

🇺🇸 USA: 2035

🇨🇦 Canada: 2035

🇨🇳 China: 2040

🇲🇽 Mexico: 2040

🇪🇸 Spain: 2040

🇮🇩 Indonesia: 2050

World map of proposed combustion bans
World map of proposed combustion bans

EU Ban

In October 2022, the EU Parliament in Brussels announced that it will ban the sale of combustion engines from 2035. The final approval for this new legislation was given in February 2023. This new law aims to speed up the switch to electric vehicles and combat climate change. These rules will require carmakers to produce 100% CO2 emissions-free cars by 2035 with the long-term goal of getting them off the continent's roads by mid-century.

Both Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz welcomed the EU’s decision and said it would be achievable to reduce CO2 emissions by 2035 to 0%. VW also said that the industry's shift to electromobility is irreversible.

The EU ban has far-reaching consequences not just for the European Union but the world. European carmakers probably won’t be catering for smaller markets such as Switzerland which has not outlawed the sale of combustion engines by 2035. Also, other countries around the world won’t get new combustion cars from the continent anymore.

Glasgow Climate Conference

The UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow (COP26) brought together 120 world leaders and many thousand party delegates, ambassadors, diplomats and media representatives. For two weeks, they discussed climate change topics and what to do about it.

The outcome was the recognition of the emergency situation and that more needs to be done to slow down and curb global temperature rise. Fossil fuels such as coal, gas, diesel and gasoline should all be reduced and phased out over the long-term future. For cars, this means a zero-emissions policy.

Over 30 countries, six major vehicle manufacturers and other actors, like cities, showed their commitment for all new car sales to be zero-emission vehicles by 2040 globally and 2035 in leading markets.

Emissions Policies and Targets

Emissions regulations have become more strict recently making it more and more difficult to obey them. Combustion engines need complex systems such as air pumps, exhaust gas recirculation, urea injection, charcoal and particle filters, catalytic converters and many more to comply with regulations. These systems have become so complex that most of the aggregates, hoses and other things found on a modern engine are only there to fulfil emission standards.

The start of more controls and stricter regulations was kicked off in 2015 when VW was caught cheating emissions in the Dieselgate scandal. This brought increased scrutiny to all car manufacturers. In 2015 the new Euro 6 emissions standard also came into effect, making it very hard to fulfil them with combustion engines. These days modern cars are extremely clean and almost don’t emit carbon monoxide or diesel dust "particulate matter PM" anymore.

But the real problem with emissions regulations are the CO2 limits. The Euro emission standards set legal requirements for car manufacturers to average CO2 emissions below a certain value. There are no individual CO2 emission limits on cars, but the car manufacturer has to fall below this limit on its entire fleet to meet the regulations. For example, this limit has been set to 95 g/km from 2021 until 2024.

CO2 emissions reductions for new cars and vans Source: European Council
CO2 emissions reductions for new cars and vans Source: European Council

Hefty fines need to be paid if they don’t reach the CO2 goals. Every EV a car manufacturer produces and sells gets a multiplier brake in the CO2 goals, which is then credited against their existing combustion fleet. This really motivates them towards EVs and away from big combustion engines. We will see increasingly more EVs and very small ICEs being sold so that car manufacturers can comply and meet the EU’s CO2 goals.

From the year 2025, it has been announced that new Euro 7 regulations will come into force, which will be so stringent that car manufacturers are going to struggle to still meet them with today's combustion engine technology. EU Lawmakers will make it extremely hard to meet these regulations giving the combustion engine no feasible future anymore.

European Emission Standards - Source: Wikipedia
European Emission Standards - Source: Wikipedia

Car Manufacturers

Back in 2017 two of the biggest car companies Ford and Toyota announced that they would rename their operations into mobility companies rather than automobile manufacturers showing their commitment to EVs and the new way of mobility. Mayor car manufacturers even went so far as to have announced the following dates for stop selling combustion engines until these years:

Jaguar: 2025

Volvo: 2030

GM, Audi, and Volkswagen: 2035

Honda: 2040

Mazda, Mitsubishi and Nissan: 2050

Synthetic Fuels

At the moment, the hype for EVs is big. Lawmakers, the media and people all rush in flocks towards E-Mobility. This is not without difficulties and challenges since batteries need rare metals and earth, recycling of batteries has not been solved yet and it's not clear where all this electricity will come from. But the biggest challenge is actually the infrastructure and grid itself. The electric grid today wouldn’t be able to handle the increased electrical load in order to replace all cars with battery power. Also, many people live in apartments and park their cars on the road. There just aren't enough charging stations for everyone which is already a problem today with people waiting and queueing to use the few fast-charging stations.

Here, synthetic fuels could come into play. Fuel such as Diesel and Gasoline can be produced with electricity, water and CO2 in a chemical process. They are sometimes also called E-Fuels. Granted, they are not as efficient as EVs and use up more energy than just charging a battery, but they can easily be produced in countries where there is abundant renewable solar and wind energy.

In the past, the transport of electricity has been a big limiting factor. You can’t transport electric power from Africa to Europe without building massively complex infrastructure and you would also be losing 50 - 70% due to the long cable losses.

Liquid synthetic fuel on the other hand can easily be transported and we’ve got already the infrastructure for it. Even better is that cars don’t need to be converted. Synthetic fuels can just be tanked like normal Super or Diesel in any combustion car. This would contribute to overall CO2 neutrality and allow combustion cars to be part of a global climate change strategy.

Demonstration of synthetic fuel with an AC Cobra
Demonstration of synthetic fuel with an AC Cobra

The Golden Age

The announced years when the bans will come into force are just the tip of the iceberg and are the ultimate end dates when combustion will be completely abandoned. A few manufacturers have also announced that they are halting the development of combustion engines and letting customers know that the current combustion technology is at its pinnacle.

Mercedes announced in 2019 that they halted the development of combustion engines and that there will be no next-generation engine models. The company also recently said that by 2030 they are ready to go fully electric if market conditions allow this.

Audi and VW also announced in 2021 that all development on combustion engines will be halted. The group will stop developing new internal combustion engines by 2026.

But it’s not yet the end of all days for the ICE. Almost all manufacturers also stated in their press releases that they will continue to tweak their current engines giving them more power and better efficiency. But we won’t see completely new engine designs.

The combustion engine has reached its zenith and is as good as it will ever be. Efficiencies won’t make leaps anymore and we will likely see no more major technical innovations as we did with direct injection, common rail, variable valve timing and other things.

Since the aircooled Beetle engine a lot of progress has been made
Since the air-cooled Beetle engine, a lot of progress has been made

The Last Generation

You and me, we will be the last generation that has driven with combustion engines and has enjoyed them. Our future kids will read books about it and won’t be driving sticks anymore. Granted, combustion cars will still be around for a very long time and there will always be old- and youngtimers, but the majority of the population will use electric propulsion in modern vehicles. The future generation won’t be growing up with noisy gas guzzlers and instead fizz around in silent and futuristic-looking EVs.

We will be the last generation that drives combustion cars
We will be the last generation that drives combustion cars

Nils Willner

Nils is a Swiss-German engineer who is obsessed with old cars and engines. He is the author of "The Ultimate Classic Car Guide - How to Buy, Maintain & Repair Classic Cars" and the founder of EVC. His passion has always been for old cars and everything that has wheels and an engine.


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