The city of Wolfsburg is not too far away from where I grew up. After getting my driving license I’d driven there for day-trips on the weekend with friends – there’s a science museum I enjoyed going to in my school days as it had interactive exhibits. It’s a bit of a factory-city, in the same way that some places were coal-towns in the Golden Days of the mining industry. Visiting it made for a great change of pace, like coming up for air when going on a dive.
Wolfsburg is the home of VW, the German car-maker Volkswagen. VW benefited from the demand for German cars around the world, among brands such as Mercedes Benz, Porsche, and BMW. It developed a reputation that German cars still have. Maybe nothing all too fancy, more sensible actually, but incredibly powerful and effective. German cars have muscle but look like businessmen. It was a strong contributor to Germany’s excellent export figures and thus the country’s economy.
In 2015 it was exposed that VW had falsified the values of fine particulate matter and NOx emissions to be lower than their cars could actually achieve in regular use. So now liar could be added to the first impression of a VW car.
Worse yet, Germany has been at the forefront of demanding countries commit to preventing climate change. Germany’s focus lies primarily in the change from carbon-based generation to a baseline of renewable energy. The hypocrisy of lobbying to keep the levels of emission permissible higher than proposed targets of other countries not only contributed to this particular problem but also endangered the health of citizens – this already in the year 2013.
It’s clear that Merkel pursued an agenda that disproportionately not only benefited just the automotive sector, but even more exclusively so the German automotive sector. And worse yet, there is no repentance on the subject. She currently is the last subject of hearings on the emissions scandal, to ascertain what was known at which time, and claimed she first read about it in the newspaper like everyone else.
The only move by governing powers in Germany to make changes with regards to emissions limits is, for example, to limit the driving of diesel vehicles below EURO-5 certification on days of particular poor air quality from 2018 onward (GER). Petrol cars are less restricted to the EURO-3 certification. This is in a state that is governed by a Green party, so let that sink in.
Germany under Merkel is not interested in sinking one of its best-performing prestige sectors. If only she had the same fervour to support innovation in the catalytic converter industry. Until then, don’t breathe in too deeply while you’re coming up for air.
(For full disclosure, my interest in this subject stems from a project I contributed to at work, called Air Necessities: Place-based approaches to a pollution crisis about UK air pollution)