Angela Merkel launches scathing attack on German car giants

German chancellor says large sections of the auto industry have gambled away ‘huge amount of trust’

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday launched a scathing attack on Germany’s auto managers

Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday launched a scathing attack on Germany’s auto managers

 

Chancellor Angela Merkel has launched a scathing attack on Germany’s auto managers, six weeks before the federal election, after 12 years of energetic lobbying on their behalf in Brussels and beyond.

At the opening campaign rally of her fourth term bid, Dr Merkel castigated companies for using software to make cars meet emissions levels in tests but not on the road.

“Large sections of the automobile industry have gambled away huge amount of trust,” she said in the western city of Dortmund. “And when I say ‘industry’ I mean first and foremost the companies’ management.

Two weeks ago German car makers refused to go beyond software updates to improve emissions at a meeting in Berlin. Dr Merkel, on holidays at the time, vowed to hold another summit to discuss the ‘dieselgate’ scandal that has rocked an industry that employs directly around 800,000 people in Germany.

Their jobs - and the future of an industry that contributes over a fifth to Germany’s economy -- depends, she said, on “whether the German auto industry has seen the sign of the times”.

Chancellor Angela Merkel appears to have seen the sign of the times too. At least twice, in 2008 and 2015, Dr Merkel intervened personally in Brussels over car emissions, successfully watering down EU regulations German car companies feared would harm their business model. Her election campaign manager Joachim Koschnicke, spent the four years as chief lobbyist of Opel in Berlin. One of Dr Merkel’s former government spokesmen is now chief lobbyist with VW while a former close chancellery aide, Eckart von Klaeden, is now Daimler’s chief lobbyist.

As part of his new role Mr von Klaeden wrote to Dr Merkel’s economic adviser protesting in March 2015, against EU plans to increase on-road emissions testing.

Mr von Klaeden wrote in the mail, leaked to Der Spiegel, that the “real driving emissions” tests were “a massive threat”, “completely unacceptable” and that Daimler would be “thankful” if the federal government would “reconsider its position”. It did, and deleted from its position paper a date for the introduction of on-road tests.

Despite her energetic car industry lobbying, Dr Merkel on Saturday in Dortmund said car companies were to blame for “huge exploitation of gaps in emissions tests”.

Her concern is linked to the millions of German diesel drivers - and voters - but unsure whether their vehicles have a future, with diesel bans looming in dozens of German cities because of air pollution.

Sharing Dr Merkel’s criticism of German car industry fraud, and concern for diesel-driving voters, is the Social Democrat (SPD) challenger Martin Schulz.

With a nod to rising e-mobility challenges from Tesla or Chinese-owned Volvo, he said: “We have the problem in Germany that millionaire managers at VW and Daimler have have overslept.”

To push on electric cars in Germany, he has proposed a e-car quota in the EU. Dr Merkel dismissed his e-car quota as “not well thought-out” but agreed on the need to “innovate quickly.”

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