by Qiao Jihong, Tian Dongdong
BERLIN, Aug. 3 (Xinhua) -- "Made in Germany" is fading as the country's most well-known automobile industry was in crisis and the latest "Diesel Summit" ended in Berlin with a widely-called "Micky Mouse deal."
"Made in Germany" is now less taken as the distillation of all German characters of efficiency, reliability, precision and the pursuit of excellence, rather more marked by cheating and lack of innovative spirit.
CHEATING JEOPARDIZES REPUTATION
Germany's cherished reputation for engineering excellence and reliability, which have long been the secret to success of "Made in Germany", was jeopardized by the 2015 exposure of Volkswagen(VW) software cheating and illegally pumping out tons of deadly nitrogen oxides in millions of diesel cars worldwide.
Audi and Daimler, another two major German automakers, were also found cheating on emissions.
Cars "Made in Germany" have been confronting growing public outrage domestically and overseas for underplaying the health effects of diesel fumes and misleading customers about their cars' daily pollution.
"We know, we've lost trust," said Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche at the conference press after the Diesel Summit. This was confirmed by the Emnid poll, showing a majority of Germans thought the carmakers "untrustworthy."
"The automobile industry has driven itself into difficult territory," Germany's Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said in an interview with Germany's daily newspaper Bild.
"The reputation of cars 'made in Germany' risks being damaged and that's something that would be dreadful," he added.
German news magazine Der Spiegel shocked the world again by exposing the price-fixing and component-coordinating cartel of the three German powerful carmakers, which has allegedly been running for two decades to the detriment of consumers, suppliers and the market environment.
"Recent events make it evident that an ethical cultural change must take place in large parts of the automobile industry," said Stefan Bratzel, professor of automotive economy at FHDW university at Bergisch Gladbach near Germany's western city of Cologne.
BELATED TRANSITION DECAYS "MADE IN GERMANY"
While France and Britain successively announced their ban on oil-fueled vehicles by 2040, Germany appallingly decided to prolong the life of highly polluted diesel cars. The belated transition in German automotive industry has somewhat dragged its heels.
"The government's chumminess with the auto industry continues," Oliver Krischer, a leader of the opposition Green Party, said in a statement Wednesday. "While China, California, Norway and many others are tackling electromobility, the government is turning Germany into a diesel museum."
With around 15 million diesels cars rolling on its roads, Germany, mother land of diesel engines, is now in a crying need for diesel cars. The past glory, together with the temptation of interest, dragged the transition of German automakers, and weakened their competitiveness.
Holding merely 36 percent of European market, German automakers have to compete with traditional rivals of Japan, France, Britain, South Korea and the United States on the one hand, and with electric vehicle manufacturers, including Tesla, on the other.
Germans are still proud of a sector that is key to the country's identity as "Exportweltmeister": VW, Mercedes-Benz and BMW account for half the country's trade surplus. Yet it is precisely this dominance that is under threat.
Germany's reactions to the unveiling of Tesla 3 were equally fascination, envy and panic. Britain has joined France in committing to fully phasing out fossil-fuelled cars by 2040, dealing a potential blow for the Germans, as some 10 percent of the country's industrial workforce depends on the internal combustion engine.
Doom-laden prophesies warn of national decline. One Bild columnist said the car sector could suffer the same fate as the coal industry and consumer electronics. Could Daimler follow Grundig and Blaupunkt?
For a faded "Made in Germany", the government, which has close relations with automakers, can not shirk its responsibility.
The government connives at automotive industry for good reasons. Providing 800,000 jobs, the industry is Germany's largest export sector. Tantamount to 20 percent of its share, the industry also stands as the icon of "Made in Germany".
Meanwhile, government's chumminess with the auto industry is strengthened by powerful auto lobbyist groups.
Everything is born, according to Bild, from a chart showing that the federal transport office was already aware of the fact that the Porsche Macan diesel gas abatement devices were irregular one year ago.
In a first version of the Motorization report, the device is definitely defined as a "shutdown system." But in the second, after an exchange of views with Porsche, it is referred to simply as "a change of behavior in terms of emissions of the system abatement of exhaust gases."
In this sense, the just-concluded "Diesel Summit" is a governmental crisis management. For New York Times, Wednesday's meeting between ministers, state leaders and car company chiefs was an attempt to contain a crisis of confidence that threatens Germany's most important industry, and perhaps even its national identity, ahead of elections next month.
Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, a car industry analyst at the University of Duisburg-Essen Center for Automotive Research, called the agreement a farce and said that political leaders had squandered the opportunity to force a more meaningful change on the carmakers.
"The biggest losers are the politicians and their credibility," he said, calling for more reforms and stricter supervision from the government.