Car culture debated in polls as Germany prepares to choose Merkel’s successor

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The world’s major automakers believe electric vehicles will lead the auto industry for years to come. But as different parts of the world embrace electric driving at different rates, will Germany be left behind? To what extent will its future be ecological and respectful of the environment?

German car culture – oscillating between a past of oil enthusiasts and a future of green fanatics – is subject to debate at the polls as the country moves on Sunday to pick the candidate to succeed Angela Merkel as German Chancellor.

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Three candidates hope to succeed Merkel as chancellor: the candidate from her Union bloc, Armin Laschet; the current Vice-Chancellor Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats; and Green Party candidate Annalena Baerbock.

Baerbock, whose opposition party is third in the polls ahead of Sunday’s election, argued for a faster exit from coal as a source of electricity in a debate last weekend, saying the current government had not done enough to limit climate change. She said Germany needed a “fresh start” on the issue.

“The next government must be a climate government,” she said.

Tesla, Inc. co-founder Elon Musk encountered a gushing Laschet last month at the automaker’s “Gigafactory” construction site near Berlin.

The billionaire has said he hopes to start production at the Gruenheide plant this fall.

Tesla originally planned to start manufacturing in July, but legal issues and licensing issues have caused delays.

“We look forward to getting approval to make the first cars, maybe in October if we’re lucky,” Musk told reporters.

“Giga Berlin-Brandenburg county fair and factory tour on October 9!” the SpaceX founder then tweeted, noting that while residents of Berlin and Brandenburg would be granted priority access, the event would be open to the general public.

Environmental activists last week lobbied for the next German Chancellor to take strong action on climate change, advancing the phasing out of coal in the country and banning new gasoline-powered vehicles from 2025.

Nine days before the German election, activists unfurled a three-story banner at Berlin’s main train station, intended as a vacancy announcement seeking a new “climate chancellor”.

Polls show climate change to be the biggest issue for voters ahead of the September 26 election, but many voters are wary of the possible costs associated with the large-scale changes needed for Germany to become carbon neutral.

A Mercedes-Benz AG EQC 400 4Matic electric vehicle (EV) SUV at the Daimler AG Open Space exhibition at the IAA Munich Motor Show in Munich, Germany on Tuesday, September 7, 2021. (Alex Kraus / Bloomberg via Getty Images / Getty Images)

Automotive culture may have no choice but to adapt.

The EU is demanding automakers to meet lower limits on average emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas many scientists blame for global warming. The new lower limit of 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer came into effect earlier this year.

However, doubts about electric vehicles remain high in this central European country. A February 2021 survey across 22 countries found Germany to be the most skeptical, with 58% of those polled saying their next car “probably won’t” be electric.

About a fiftieth worker in Germany is employed in the automotive industry, and the country’s automotive culture really took off during the “economic miracle” of the 1950s thanks to the know-how of car manufacturers like Volkswagen and BMW.

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Despite this, Germany appears to be taking small steps in the right direction.

Since battery-only cars are rated for zero emissions, automakers have turned to them to lower their fleet averages. This led to an increase in electricity sales at the end of 2020. As of December, nearly one in four cars sold in Europe was either battery-only or a plug-in hybrid.

Electric vehicle registrations in Germany rose by more than 300% last year thanks to buying incentives as part of the country’s pandemic stimulus package.

Electric vehicles on German roads passed the million mark in July, the government said in a statement.

“Our transport will be irreversibly converted to renewable energies,” said Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, calling the news a “decisive step”.

Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said 60% of greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector come from cars. “One million electric cars represent millions of times less CO2 emissions in traffic,” she said.

The future government will have to reduce combustion engine emissions accordingly over the next 14 to 29 years. The country aims to have 14 million electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles in circulation by 2030.

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“Germany’s chances of becoming a champion in electric mobility are not perfect, but they are still quite good,” said Patrick Plötz., transport economist at the Fraunhofer Institute in Karlsruhe. “The big manufacturers have finally measured the stakes.”

Tesla has not responded to Fox News’ request for comment at press time.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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