By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) - The chairman of Germany's largest luxury carmaker, Daimler-Benz, braved boos and a frosty reception as guest speaker at a Greens party congress on Sunday to tell delegates he too wants CO2-free cars on the roads.
Dieter Zetsche, whose company is demonized by many Greens, said the firm had not missed the boat developing electric cars and said it backs climate protection goals.
But he dismissed their call to ban the sale of new cars powered by petrol or diesel by 2030.
"Many of you probably thought 'Letting the Daimler boss talk about transportation here is like letting (Donald) Trump talk about women's policies'," Zetsche joked to 800 delegates at the environmentalist party's annual congress in Muenster.
Yet Zetsche disarmed the Greens by saying he backed one of their central policies for the 2017 election, namely that the car industry's future depends on developing emission-free cars.
"It might surprise some of you but I agree entirely," said Zetsche, who appeared tie-less and in the same sort of running shoes many Greens wear even on formal occasions.
"The decarbonization of industrial nations is necessary and carmakers will have to play a role," he added. Even though demand for cars keeps rising globally, "we'll have to cut the CO2 emissions of all the cars we manufacture. We'll live up to our climate policy responsibilities."
Zetsche told journalists at the Paris Motor Show in September that Daimler's Mercedes-Benz and Smart brands will launch more than 10 electric cars by 2025, and zero-emission vehicles will make up between 15 percent and 25 percent of overall Mercedes sales by then.
The Greens were in power at the federal government from 1998 to 2005 but have been in opposition ever since, even though they share power in coalitions in 10 of Germany's 16 federal states.The Greens are emerging as a preferred coalition partner after the 2017 election for both the conservative Christian Democrats and the center-left Social Democrats (SPD). Opinion polls show them winning 11-13 percent of the vote, mostly in third place.
They agreed at their congress in Muenster to push for a new tax on the wealthiest individuals if they get into power.
Zetsche, one of the most recognized faces of industry in Germany, insisted the Greens and carmakers have much in common.
"Those who see carmakers as the root of all evil might not have noticed every second electric car in Europe is made in Germany.
"The old way of thinking pitting those obsessed with high-powered cars ... against joyless anti-car ecologists has been overtaken by reality," he said.
"That's good too because the transformation the car industry is facing will have an impact on the whole country."
(Additional reporting by Hans-Edzard Busemann in Muenster; writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)