Merkel backs mighty German car sector on campaign stop

Chancellor Angela Merkel defended Germany’s big-hitting carmaking industry which is battling new EU environmental rules, on an election campaign stop at a major auto show Thursday.

Merkel threw her support behind a sector that is one of the jewels of Europe’s top economy and exporter, with her economic track record the trump card in her bid for a third term.

In a speech to open the IAA auto show, Merkel said Germany is “proud” of its carmakers, praising not only the example they set worldwide in terms of production but also in innovation.

“One can and may say that the automobile industry is the most research supportive branch in Germany,” she said.

She renewed her backing of German carmakers in their bid to change proposed EU carbon emission limits which aim to reduce the role of gas-guzzling cars in warming the planet’s climate.

Merkel, who light-heartedly confessed on TV this week she had not driven in a long time, called for a “reasonable balance” between economic interests and environmental protection, saying much had been achieved on emissions in the last two years.

“German manufacturers now offer vehicles that are more efficient and more economic than ever and we can therefore say that it’s the right direction,” she said.

Earlier in the year, Germany led a group of EU members that torpedoed a first draft for tighter emission restrictions. The plan was to limit CO2 emissions to 95 grammes per kilometre by 2020.

At the time, Merkel argued the need to protect jobs in a German auto sector — that includes global giants VW, Daimler-Benz and BMW — known for powerful cars that would be disproportionately hit by the planned limit.

Environmental protection group, BUND, slammed Merkel as the “guardian” of the German car industry. “This policy is damaging not only Germany’s reputation in matters of climate protection, it is damaging also the car industry itself,” Jens Hilgenberg said in a statement.

While Germans are renowned for their love of high-speed cars on speed-limitless autobahns, he argued that heavy vehicles that can reach up to 250 kilometres (155 miles) an hour were not the future, but rather smaller and more cost-effective cars.

Merkel later toured stands, even climbing into Volkswagen’s electric-powered e-Golf.

Electric cars by German builders are among the nearly 70 world premieres at the fair that runs in the western city of Frankfurt until September 22, which is also election day.

She reiterated Germany’s goal to have one million electric vehicles on its roads by 2020, although the number of electric vehicles registered in Germany as of January 1 was only just over 7,000.

“We watch with pleasure as more and more marketable models develop and, hence, a certain dynamic will also develop,” Merkel said, also trumpeting her record on public finances and anti-eurozone crisis measures, as well as advocating free and open trading markets.