Daily Briefing

Audi's new driver

Audi 1800×1200
Before they were sexy. Source: PR

The honchos at VW, forever trying to put the Dieselgate scandal behind them, have found a new boss for their luxury subsidiary Audi. They’re hiring Markus Duesmann from rival carmaker BMW. That makes Duesmann the second BMW executive VW has poached in recent years, after Herbert Diess, who is now VW’s CEO.

The job at Audi, based in the Bavarian city of Ingolstadt, became vacant this year when Rupert Stadler, the subsidiary’s former boss, was arrested on charges of obstructing justice in clearing up Dieselgate. (Stadler denies the accusations.) An interim CEO was appointed, but the search was on for a permanent replacement. Duesmann appears to have a non-compete clause in his BMW contract, so it could take a few months before he shows up in Ingolstadt.

Audi, of course, has been through a wild ride. When I was a child in the 70s, it was the quintessence of boredom, a car for Spießer (squares). Then it transformed itself into arguably the world’s coolest auto brand, cooler than Mercedes and BMW. But recently it has slipped behind those two again in sales. Above all this hangs the stink of the emissions tests on which it cheated. But the biggest problem is this: Audi, like all German car makers, has so far slept through the two disruptions that will define the industry: electric motors and self-driving cars. Duesmann has some work to do.

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Yesterday, I opined on Mesut Özil, the German soccer star of Turkish extraction who has quit the German national team because of what he called racism and disrespect. Now all of Germany is talking about the case, because it touches on what is probably the most contentious and fraught issue in Europe and Germany today: “integration”.

Germany is on thin ice here. On one hand, it likes to view itself as a tolerant and open society, and in some ways it is. On the other hand, especially when compared to other Western countries, Germany has been bad at fully embracing migrants and allowing them or the next generation to feel German. The numbers show that Germans “with a migrant background”, in the ugly phrase of German bureaucrats, lag behind ethnic Germans in education, the job market and incomes.

That applies especially to the roughly 4 million people of Turkish descent in Germany. According to a new study, 61 percent of German Turks feel they “belong” to Turkey, whereas only 38 percent say they belong to Germany. Most surprisingly, there is a seeming paradox: Those Turkish Germans who are best integrated into German society (like Özil) are precisely the ones who are likeliest to feel that they’re not accepted by Germans as Germans. Martina Sauer, the study’s author, says that Germans still struggle in grasping dual identities: Instead of both/and, they only understand either/or.

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Germany’s state department has once again spoken out boldly … against speaking out boldly. In this case, it is criticizing the tone between (who else?) US President Donald Trump and Iran. On Sunday, its president, Hassan Rouhani, had threatened to close the Persian Gulf to oil tankers. So The Donald took to Twitter (what else?) and reached for his all-caps key:

“NEVER, EVER THREATEN THE UNITED STATES AGAIN OR YOU WILL SUFFER CONSEQUENCES THE LIKES OF WHICH FEW THROUGHOUT HISTORY HAVE EVER SUFFERED BEFORE.”

That prompted Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, to tweet back, with more selective (and presumably ironic) use of all-caps: “COLOR US UNIMPRESSED: The world heard even harsher bluster a few months ago. And Iranians have heard them —albeit more civilized ones—for 40 yrs. We’ve been around for millennia & seen fall of empires, incl our own, which lasted more than the life of some countries. BE CAUTIOUS!”

In a powder-keg region such as the Middle East, these are scary exchanges. That’s why German diplomats are demanding “rhetorical de-escalation”. Good luck with that.

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