German car buyers turning to low emission cars
By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) - German car buyers have become sensitized to climate change and are increasingly turning to cars with reduced greenhouse gas emissions, the president of the German automotive industry association said on Wednesday.
Matthias Wissmann said the VDA, Germany's powerful car lobby, was nevertheless still demanding the European parliament and European Union water down plans to levy fines on carmakers whose fleets break limits on carbon dioxide emissions.
"There's been a huge increase in buyers' sensitivity for climate protection," Wissmann told a news conference, adding he had experienced the change in Germans' buying habits first hand while spending time in car showrooms recently.
"Naturally it's a development we welcome," he said.
German carmakers, who produce some of the fastest and most heavily polluting cars in the world, have resisted EU Commission plans to introduce fines from 2012 on manufacturers whose fleets exceed an average of 120 grams per kilometer of CO2.
Wissmann said CO2 emissions of new German cars registered in 2007 fell by 1.7 percent to just under 170 grams per kilometer. That was above the 160 grams per kilometer for all new cars, including imports, that were registered in 2007.
He said there are 388 different models made by German carmakers on the market that need less than 6.5 liters of fuel per 100 kilometers and 60 models that need less than 5 liters.
"That shows that the new models with lower CO2 emissions are becoming popular among consumers," Wissmann said.
But registrations of new cars in Germany, Europe's largest market, dropped by 20 percent to 243,000 vehicles in 2007. The VDA has blamed rising fuel prices, concerns about climate change and an increase in value-added tax for the plunge.
The German government backs the car lobby's demands for changes to the proposals -- even though it portrays itself as a leader in the fight against global warming. It also rejects environmental groups' calls for speed limits on motorways.
The government and car lobby say the EU proposals place an unfair burden on German carmakers while not challenging French and Italian carmakers to do more to reduce emissions.
"We don't want Germany to became a nation of small car owners," Wissmann said. "We expect to see considerable movement on the EU's position."
EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas has called upon Germany to embrace the proposed fines as an opportunity to make more fuel efficient cars.
The BUND environmental group criticized Wissmann.
"The car industry has to finally accept the challenges of climate protection and stop attacking the EU," said Werner Reh, a transport export at BUND. "Otherwise Germany is going to lose its credibility at future climate protection negotiations."
(Editing by Catherine Evans)