WASHINGTON – The global auto industry will continue to rely on internal-combustion engines for the next couple of decades, says Stefan Jacoby, president of Volkswagen America Inc.

Participating in a recent Green Car Summit at the Cannon House Office Building here, he says auto makers have to depend on ICEs until alternative-power systems are fully developed.

“We believe there will be a diverse (range) of propulsion technologies in the future,” Jacoby tells attendees, noting he’s especially high on the clean diesel option—as are most European auto executives.

The VWA chief cites the low price of fuel in the U.S. as the major barrier to the introduction of electrified vehicles here. “Electric vehicles and hybrids are not competitive (at this time).”

Jacoby also predicts there won't be a charging infrastructure, which is vital to EV use, created in the next five to 10 years.

“I want to be a little more realistic about EVs,” he says. “It's going to take more time (for growth). Only 10% of our (U.S.) fleet will be electrified by 2020.”

Moving the industry to produce more EVs cannot be done by government edict, alone. “We make cars for consumers, not government regulators,” Jacoby says.

It will take billions of dollars of investment to scale up to the mass production of electrified vehicles, he says, noting it’s doubtful that can happen in a couple of decades.

Jacoby predicts the U.S. will proceed with electrification at the same speed as other countries, including China.

Meantime, the VWA chief urges the adoption of long-term global emissions standards. State emissions standards in the U.S. make it tough on the auto industry, emphasizing national standards are needed here.

Jacoby's cautious predictions for EV growth are echoed by his colleague, Johan de Nysschen, president of Audi of America Inc., who tells Ward’s he agrees EV penetration will be slow in coming years.

However, clean-diesel technology could grow fast, he says, especially with government help, and predicts “clean diesels could account for 15% of our total sales in five years.”

De Nysschen especially would like to see states establish high-occupancy-lane privileges for people who car pool in vehicles powered by clean diesel engines. Similar privileges helped to spur hybrid vehicle sales after their introduction in some states, he says.