Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche.automotiveIT

Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche

BOCHUM, Germany ”“ Two thirds of all European cars will have an electric motor on board by 2013, Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche predicted Thursday.

Speaking at the CAR Symposium here, Zetsche said “the monopoly of the internal combustion engine is reaching the end of the line.”But he added that the decline will be gradual and that traditionally powered vehicles will continue to play a major role for years to come.

Zetsche said the move toward automotive electrification will mean car companies need partners to help defray the massive investment costs associated with the change. “It doesn’t make sense to do it all alone,”he said.

The Daimler CEO, who also heads the group’s Mercedes-Benz passenger car division, said the auto industry will evolve but “will stay a growth business.” Much of that growth will come from developing markets, in particular, China, which is Daimler’s third-biggest market.

Zetsche was guarded about the longer term growth prospects for China, noting that “the boom cannot go on forever.” He cited a slowdown already predicted for 2011 and noted that driving restrictions in major cities and an ageing population will dampen growth prospects in coming years.

But emphasizing the potential of the Chinese market, he added: “China’s 1.3 billion consumers will not disappear.”

The electrification of the car is one of the biggest changes automakers have faced in their 125-year history. “We’re at the beginning of a structural change in the industry,” Zetsche said, citing the need for new approaches to electricity generation, electricity storage and battery recycling.

“New business models offer new business opportunities,” he said.

Zetsche said he didn’t think the increased sophistication of driver-assistance systems will take the driver out of the equation altogether.

“From a technology point of view, automated driving is abolutely realistic,”he said. But he added that Daimler wants the driver to remain at the wheel, embedded in ”“ and helped by - a web of safety systems that correct driving errors.

-By Arjen Bongard