Last chance for Ger­many’s fa­vorite en­gine?

Kuwait Times - - ANALYSIS - — AFP

Ger­many hosts a de­bate on the fu­ture of diesel en­gines as pres­sure grows on the gov­ern­ment and au­tomak­ers to curb or ditch a tech­nol­ogy tarred by a rep­u­ta­tion for pol­lu­tion and cheat­ing. The “na­tional diesel fo­rum” takes place in Ber­lin to­mor­row amid re­newed sus­pi­cions of emis­sions-fix­ing and a clamor for dieselpow­ered ve­hi­cles to be banned from cities to re­duce pol­lu­tion. “The rep­u­ta­tion of cars ‘made in Ger­many’ risk be­ing dam­aged and that’s some­thing that would be dread­ful,” said Trans­port Min­is­ter Alexan­der Do­brindt in an in­ter­view with Bild daily. “The au­to­mo­bile in­dus­try has driven it­self into dif­fi­cult ter­ri­tory”... and it “has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to win back trust,” he added.

With its en­gi­neer­ing prow­ess, prof­itabil­ity and role as an em­ploy­ment pow­er­house, the car sec­tor tra­di­tion­ally wields mas­sive po­lit­i­cal clout in Ger­many. But both par­ties in the gov­ern­ing coali­tion, the cen­tre-left So­cial Demo­cratic Party (SPD) led by Martin Schulz and Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel’s cen­tre-right Chris­tian Demo­cratic Union (CDU/CSU), are keep­ing the in­dus­try at arm’s length as Septem­ber par­lia­men­tary elec­tions loom.

“Mrs Merkel is try­ing to calm things down be­fore the elec­tions, that’s the main rea­son for this sum­mit,” Fer­di­nand Du­den­ho­ef­fer of the CAR au­to­mo­bile re­search cen­ter told ARD pub­lic tele­vi­sion. Break­ing with a po­lit­i­cal habit of cozy­ing up to car­mak­ers - which pro­vide more than 800,000 jobs in Ger­many’s largest in­dus­trial sec­tor - En­vi­ron­ment Min­is­ter Bar­bara Hen­dricks said Thurs­day that over­fa­mil­iar­ity had been a mis­take, as it al­lowed com­pany bosses to be­lieve they were un­touch­able.

Hen­dricks and Do­brindt will lead a sum­mit packed with car­mak­ers ac­tive in Ger­many, in­clud­ing VW with its Audi and Porsche sub­sidiaries, Mercedes-Benz maker Daim­ler, BMW, Opel and Ford, whose Euro­pean HQ stands in Cologne. On Thurs­day, Do­brindt or­dered Porsche to re­call 22,000 ve­hi­cles across Europe af­ter what he called “il­le­gal” soft­ware dis­guis­ing the true level of emis­sions had been dis­cov­ered in its Cayenne and Ma­can mod­els. Be­cause the af­fected mod­els are still be­ing man­u­fac­tured, the gov­ern­ment will also deny any per­mits for the ve­hi­cles “un­til new soft­ware is avail­able,” he said.

The VDA auto in­dus­try fed­er­a­tion, the car im­porters’ as­so­ci­a­tion VDIK, pow­er­ful trade union IG Me­tall and the lo­cal and re­gional gov­ern­ments most af­fected by air pol­lu­tion are all in­vited to to­mor­row’s talks. SPD law­maker Jo­hannes Kahrs took Merkel to task over her ab­sence at the meet­ing. “When mil­lions of diesel en­gines have been ma­nip­u­lated, and one of the big­gest in­dus­tries of the coun­try is in dan­ger, the chan­cel­lor should be present at the diesel sum­mit,” he told busi­ness weekly Han­dels­blatt.

‘Any­thing but a ban’

Top­ping the agenda at the talks will be the task of re­duc­ing air pol­lu­tion from diesel tech­nol­ogy. But Du­den­ho­ef­fer ex­pects noth­ing but a “pre­tend so­lu­tion” that will not go far enough. Con­sumer and en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions are mean­while in­censed that they have not been in­vited. Even so, widen­ing pub­lic con­cern about pol­lu­tion pro­vides a pow­er­ful spur for the auto in­dus­try to re­think its com­mit­ment to diesel.

Ger­many has al­ready been warned by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion about its bad air qual­ity. On Fri­day, a court in Stuttgart, the home of Mercedes-Benz and Porsche, found that a ban on older diesel ve­hi­cles would be the most ef­fec­tive way of re­duc­ing the pol­lu­tion and pro­tect­ing pub­lic health. Such re­stric­tions could be a mas­sive blow to those us­ing the cars, which make up around one-third of the to­tal on Ger­man roads. The Stuttgart rul­ing also piles pres­sure on politi­cians to aban­don their sup­port for a vol­un­tary ap­proach by the car in­dus­try to fix the prob­lem.

Other coun­tries have an­nounced dras­tic mea­sures - even if im­ple­men­ta­tion re­mains decades away. Both Bri­tain and France will stop sales of fos­sil-fuel ve­hi­cles from 2040, but the move ap­pears ex­tremely un­likely in Ger­many, which has deep his­toric con­nec­tions to diesel. The tech­nol­ogy can be traced to a Ger­man in­ven­tor, Ru­dolf Diesel, in the 1890s. Part of the prob­lem is that some for­eign man­u­fac­tur­ers in­vested heav­ily on hy­brid or al­l­elec­tric ve­hi­cles to re­duce car­bon diox­ide (CO2) emis­sions, but Ger­many’s car in­dus­try largely bet on diesel.

The fuel con­trib­utes less cli­mate-al­ter­ing car­bon diox­ide (CO2) gas than petrol-burn­ing mo­tors. But it emits more NOx, which con­trib­utes to the for­ma­tion of harm­ful smog, as well as fine par­tic­ules that can hurt res­pi­ra­tory and car­diac health.

Ger­man Trans­port min­is­ter Alexan­der Do­brindt at­tends a press con­fer­ence in Ber­lin on July 27, 2017 amid scan­dals around diesel emis­sions and a sus­pected car­maker’s car­tel. —AFP

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