Tempers flare as German auto industry meets eco-activists

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Environmental activists accused Germany’s auto industry of failing to do enough to help avert a climate crisis as executives sought on Thursday to build bridges with their detractors ahead of the Frankfurt auto show.

Climate activists are calling for demonstrators to join anti-car protests during the car show, known as the IAA, which is due to take place from September 12 to 22.

“We are on course for a catastrophe,” said Luise Neumann-Cosel, head of campaigns for German online petitions site Campact. “We are in a car and we are driving at 250 km per hour towards an abyss... We need fewer cars.”

Neumann-Cosel accused car makers of failing to help reduce emissions because they are still pushing gas-guzzling SUVs that are more profitable than smaller cars.

The activist clashed with Bernhard Mattes, president of Germany’s VDA auto industry association.

“Do we really want to go to a quarter of people and say you have to give up your car?” Mattes asked when environmentalists suggested that more radical policies were needed.

Ernst-Christoph Stolper, the deputy leader of the BUND environmental group, said the Frankfurt car show had been a showcase for the sector’s resistance to change.

“The car industry has always fought against tougher policies. We would be happy if that changed but actions are more important than words.”

On Monday, the VDA said the Frankfurt car show will champion sustainable driving and electric cars, including Volkswagen’s ID 3 electric vehicle, Porsche’s Taycan electric sports car, and Mercedes-Benz’s fully electric van.

Britta Seeger, management board member for Mercedes-Benz maker Daimler, said her company was investing heavily in battery production and electric motor research.

“We are very serious about contributing to climate-neutral innovation of the future,” she said.

More than 40 luxury vehicles were vandalized at a car dealership in Kronberg on the outskirts of Frankfurt last month, while climate activists also occupied railway lines supplying Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg factory.

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