Meddling auf der autobahn

A case of backseat driving this week, as the German car industry tries to steer the European Commission's controversial plans to curb vehicle emissions. Berlin's argument is that most of the big German firms - Porsche, BMW and Daimler - all rely on sales of powerful models, and wouldn't be able to comply with existing proposals. It is instead suggesting a series of categories that create higher carbon dioxide allowances for heavier cars. Sceptics may of course point out that that somewhat defeats the object of emissions legislation, ie. to do something about pollution.

Last Updated: 06 Nov 2012

The current plan is to set the ceiling at 130 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre per car by 2012, for the average fleet of each company. Italian and French manufacturers, which concentrate on smaller ranges, would pass this relatively easily. By contrast, Porsche at 297 grams, BMW at 190, and Daimler at 184 would currently struggle to meet the target even with hybrid technology.

It is clearly a sensitive issue in Germany, and with good reason. The car industry is vital to the nation's economy, with around one seventh of the German workforce in some way connected to it. Hence there will be major repercussions if modifications have to be made to its (gas-guzzling) flagship models, which are after all the ones that deliver the largest margins. One could of course argue that manufacturers across the board are all heading down the same costly highway, and that others facing the same costs have lower margins to play with. In other words, what are the Germans moaning about? VW-Audi, the one German auto group that doesn't rely on these big cars, may have lower emissions but it also has bigger things to worry about right now, such as ownership and management wrangles.
The same legislation has for now yanked the handbrake on Ford's sale of Jaguar and Land Rover, as interested private-equity parties delay till they find out exactly what emission rules would mean for them. With other parties pushing for even stricter limits, it looks like they may be parked in the lay-by a while yet.

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