Merkel and Rival Lay Into German Auto Industry Ahead of Election

August 14, 2017, 10:20 AM UTC

Six weeks away from Germany’s federal election, chancellor Angela Merkel and her main challenger have both taken aim at the country’s beleaguered car-making industry.

Merkel used her first campaign speech in the industrial city of Dortmund to accuse large sections of the auto industry of having “gambled away unbelievable amounts of trust.”

Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW have all been accused of manipulating their diesel emissions readouts in order to meet environmental regulations, and German and European antitrust regulators are investigating allegations that the companies organized an illegal cartel.

According to a Reuters report, Merkel said Saturday that “only the auto industry can restore” the lost trust. She also said the government would organize an industry-wide summit in the fall to discuss accountability for the diesel scandal.

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After the car companies met with the government at the start of this month, the CEOs of Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW conceded responsibility for the diesel scandal and promised to pay for software upgrades to reduce emissions from affected vehicles. However, critics said the government had not really censured them in any way.

Martin Schulz, the head of Merkel’s current junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SPD), also laid into the auto industry on the weekend, slamming “irresponsible managers” that have not invested in electric cars as they should. A key point of difference between Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the SPD is that the latter wants car-makers to have quotas for the production of electric vehicles, whereas the former see this as too difficult to put into practice.

Merkel is on track to easily win her fourth term in September, giving her leeway to criticize the executives of a sector that, according to government figures, accounts for a fifth of the country’s total industrial revenue and employs around 800,000 people.