German carmakers welcome modified emissions targets

German automakers could breathe easier Tuesday after Berlin and Paris agreed on a proposal that relaxes carbon dioxide emission targets for cars.

German carmakers welcome modified emissions targets
Photo: DPA

The accord “is a clear improvement on a proposition by the European Commission,” said Matthias Wissmann, head of the German automobile association VDA.

He spoke after France and Germany agreed on Monday to a joint proposal for carbon dioxide emission levels that seeks to tone down one mooted by the European Union’s (EU) executive branch.

German manufacturers welcomed the compromise “even though it is not an ideal solution,” Wissmann said.

Car companies such as Volkswagen, BMW or Daimler went to battle over a plan floated by the EU commission in December to sharply reduce the level of CO2 emitted by new cars, which set a target of 120 grammes per kilometre.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also criticized the plan, saying that the EU’s industrial policies were being established “at the expense of Germany.”

German cars are among the most powerful models produced in Europe, and auto

manufacturers argued they would be penalized more than competitors in

countries like France and Italy that produce a larger number of small vehicles.

France and Germany have worked for months to reach a compromise that would

be acceptable to all 27 EU members and the result was a relaxed version of the

EU plan.

The fundamental goal remained the same, with the 120-gramme target to be

reached through concerted efforts by automakers.

They will be expected to make engines that emitted no more than 130 grammes, and 10 grammes that were to be eliminated mainly through the use of cleaner fuels.

The method of calculation would also remain the same — a barometer based on the vehicle’s weight.

But under the Franco-German proposal, the auto industry would have until 2015 to reach the targets for models that are already in production, compared with 2012 across the board in the EU Commission’s plan.

It also stipulates that they could obtain a slight additional margin above 130 grammes if they introduced certified “eco-innovations” elsewhere in the vehicle such as more environmentally friendly tyres or seven-speed transmissions that would augment fuel economy.

Both measures were backed by the German auto industry.

An EU system of fines for vehicles that exceeded established CO2 limits might also be relaxed, though details of possible modifications were not provided.

“Not everything is clear. But the solution is softer. The targets will be easier to reach,” commented Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, a German auto specialist.

BHF bank analyst Albrecht Deninghoff added: “It’s better.”

But he remained prudent regarding the Franco-German plan, telling AFP: “It might be good, but it is not sure this is what we were hoping for.”

“Regulations would be neutral from a competition viewpoint if each kind of vehicle had an appropriate target.”

That is, if small vehicles were obliged to make the same effort as large ones.

Ecologists reacted with anger to the proposed compromises.

Merkel “has once again signed off on all of the German auto manufacturers’ propositions,” one of the chief whips of the Green party, Renate Kuenast, was quoted by German media as saying.

The Franco-German agreement “meant nothing good for climate protection,” she added.

Wolfgang Lohbeck, an auto specialist at Greenpeace, told AFP: “It’s absolutely ridiculous.

“Since 1995, constructors constantly obtain delays and improvements. This

time they got it all.”

Lohbeck said that “this leaves a bitter aftertaste, we wonder what France

must have obtained in exchange for giving in to the German positions.”

Details of the project, which would need the approval of the other 25 EU states, were to be released in the coming weeks.

The European Commission Tuesday welcomed the agreement between France and

Germany but said the two countries could not decide the issue alone.

“We welcome the convergence of views between members which have big car industries but it’s a discussion that takes place within the council, with all members,” said commission spokesman Amadeu Altafaj.

“The process is still underway so at this point there is no question of changing the (commission’s) proposals.”


From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla’s giant Berlin car factory

In the green forest outside Berlin, a David and Goliath-style battle is playing out between electric carmaker Tesla and environmental campaigners who want to stop its planned "gigafactory".

From lizards to water, eco-bumps snag Tesla's giant Berlin car factory
Tesla's gigafactory outside the doors of Berlin. dpa-Zentralbild | Patrick Pleul

“When I saw on TV that the Tesla factory was going to be built here, I couldn’t believe it,” said Steffen Schorch, driving his trusty German-made car.

The 60-year-old from Erkner village in the Berlin commuter belt has become one of the faces of the fight against the US auto giant’s first European factory, due to open in the Brandenburg region near Berlin in July.

“Tesla needs far too much water, and the region does not have this water,” said the environmental activist, a local representative of the Nabu ecologist campaign group.

Announced in November 2019, Tesla’s gigafactory project was warmly welcomed as an endorsement of the “Made in Germany” quality mark – but was immediately met with opposition from local residents.

Demonstrations, legal action, open letters – residents have done everything in their power to delay the project, supported by powerful
environmental campaign groups Nabu and Gruene Liga.

Tesla was forced to temporarily suspend forest clearing last year after campaigners won an injunction over threats to the habitats of resident lizards and snakes during their winter slumber.

READ MORE: Is Germany’s Volkswagen becoming ‘the new Tesla’ as it ramps up e-vehicle production?

And now they have focused their attention on water consumption – which could reach up to 3.6 million cubic metres a year, or around 30 percent of the region’s available supply, according to the ZDF public broadcaster.

The extra demand could place a huge burden on a region already affected by water shortages and hit by summer droughts for the past three years.

Local residents and environmentalists are also concerned about the impact on the wetlands, an important source of biodiversity in the region.

Tesla Street

“The water situation is bad, and will get worse,” Heiko Baschin, a spokesman for the neighbourhood association IG Freienbrink, told AFP.

Brandenburg’s environment minister Axel Vogel sought to play down the issue, saying in March that “capacity has not been exceeded for now”.

But the authorities admit that “the impact of droughts is significant” and have set up a working group to examine the issue in the long term.

The gigafactory is set to sprawl over 300 hectares – equivalent to approximately 560 football fields – southwest of the German capital.

Tesla is aiming to produce 500,000 electric vehicles a year at the plant, which will also be home to “the largest battery factory in the world”,
according to group boss Elon Musk.

In a little over a year and a half, swathes of coniferous forest have already been cleared to make way for vast concrete rectangles on a red earth base, accessed via the already iconic Tesla Strasse (Tesla Street).

German bureaucracy

The new site still has only provisional construction permits, but Tesla has been authorised by local officials to begin work at its own risk.

Final approval depends on an assessment of the project’s environmental impact – including the issue of water.

In theory, if approval is not granted, Tesla will have to dismantle the entire complex at its own expense.

But “pressure is being exerted (on the regulatory authorities), linked to Tesla’s significant investment”, Gruene Liga’s Michael Greschow told AFP.

In early April, Tesla said it was “irritated” by the slow pace of German bureaucracy, calling for exceptions to the rules for projects that help the environment.

Economy Minister Peter Altmaier agreed in April that his government “had not done enough” to reduce bureaucracy, lauding the gigafactory as a “very important project”.

Despite Germany’s reputation for efficiency, major infrastructure projects are often held up by bureaucracy criticised as excessive by the business community.

Among the most embarrassing examples are Berlin’s new airport which opened last October after an eight-year delay and Stuttgart’s new train station, which has been under construction since 2010.

Brandenburg’s economy minister, Joerg Steinbach, raised the possibility in February that the Tesla factory could be delayed beyond its July planned opening for the same reason.

SEE ALSO: Tesla advertises over 300 jobs for new Gigafactory near Berlin