BMW, Porsche ‘quality drops’ as US sales soar

German carmakers are enjoying unprecedented success in the US, but while sales are exceeding CEOs' dreams, the number of recalls has shot up - particularly for exclusive brands BMW and Porsche.

BMW, Porsche 'quality drops' as US sales soar
Photo: DPA

Auto giants BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen all broke sales records in the US in the first half of 2012, partly compensating for weakening demand in crisis-stricken Europe.

But even as the car business booms, German firms are also facing their biggest manufacturing problems across the Atlantic. As many as 4.8 million cars had to be recalled in the US because of flaws in the first half of the year, Die Welt newspaper reported on Tuesday.

Citing a report from the Center of Automotive (CoA) at the University of Applied Sciences in Bergisch Gladbach, western Germany, the paper said that BMW had a recall rate of close to 300 percent – in other words, nearly three times as many BMWs had to be brought back to the workshop as were sold. Luxury sports carmaker Porsche also had a worrying recall rate of 130 percent.

In absolute figures, that meant that 458,000 BMWs were recalled, and 21,500 Porsches.

Though the figures only apply to the US market, they are considered a valuable reference point for the global auto industry. “The US market is the world’s biggest, and it has the highest safety standards, and so the risk of complaints is the biggest,” CoA head Stefan Bratzel told the paper. “What happens in the US can be used to draw conclusions about general trends and other markets.”

What makes the figures particularly alarming is that they are way above the US average recall rate of 66 percent – and that in 2011 and 2010 BMW and Porsche were among the firms with lowest US recall rates.

Bratzel puts the quality deficit down to higher turnover and cutting corners in production.

“Maintaining the highest quality despite growing sales is one of the central challenges of the car industry, considering the increasing number of generic parts in cars and the use of automated construction sets,” he said.

But a BMW spokesman disputed this analysis. “These recalls are often voluntary,” he told Die Welt. “We don’t save on quality. Our cars have never been so safe and reliable.”

The Local/bk

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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