Soul-Searching

Dead-End Diesel

DISTORTED main 07949592 AP exhaust pipe car vehicle emissions diesel
Diesel is struggling with its credibility as a clean technology. Source: AP

As president of the German carmakers association, Matthias  Wissmann lives and breathes the industry. But the latest remarks of the sector’s chief lobbyist and former transportation minister on the topic of diesel engines makes one wonder if he is on he same page as the industry. One example:  “If we want to lower CO2 emissions, the modern diesel is indispensable.” Put another way, the German car industry will continue to make diesel engines, come what may. There is good reason to believe carmakers think the same.

State premier Horst Seehofer in Bayern, where BMW and Audi are based, has thrown his support behind a premium for buying cars equipped with new diesel technology based on the new Euro 6 emissions standard.  The impression you get is that the German auto world is doing just fine, despite the emissions manipulation scandal. Prosecutors can do all the investigating they want into VWAudi, and Daimler, cities can plan driving bans, and the Americans and Chinese can develop electric cars, but history will show we can’t live without the diesel, especially those Made in Germany.

“If we want to lower CO2 emissions, the modern diesel is indispensable”

Matthias Wissmann, President of the German automakers association

Let’s put aside the question about what public prosecutors hope to achieve with their intensive investigation of VW, Audi and now Daimler and bother with their findings. The judiciary’s attention-grabbing show of strength vis-a-vis the industry has little to do with the subject anyway. Public prosecutors and judges are preoccupied with the past: Daimler & Co. must to look to the future. Of course, there’s the need to look back and work out whether there was manipulation and on what scale. But far more important is the question: Does the diesel have a future?

The German industry apparently thinks so. How else can one explain why Germany, one of the world’s leading car-making nations, is so one-sidedly pinning its fate to one single engine technology in 2017. Around 70 percent of vehicles rolling off production lines have diesel engines – as if there was no alternative.

It appears as if the industry wants to keep marching ahead the way the energy sector did. The result is well-known. If BMW, Daimler and VW continue now to cling to their diesel motors, they face the same fate of the energy industry, which held on to its conventional power plants for too long. The pendulum has swung in another direction. But car executives and Horst Seeehofer appear to have overlooked that.

 

Dieter Fockenbrock heads Handelsblatt companies and markets coverage. To contact the author: fockenbrock@handelsblatt.com

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