German carmakers unprepared to give up on diesel in US without fight

German carmakers say they are not going to let a little thing like the Volkswagen emissions scandal stop them from trying to turn US markets onto diesel-powered cars.

"Of course, we're currently noticing strong headwinds in the United States when it comes to diesel," Matthias Wissmann, the head of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, told dpa. "But this is about winning back lost trust from the customers in America."

Diesel cars have never enjoyed the same popularity in America as in Europe. But the situation has only gotten worse since last year's revelation that Volkswagen had installed software in many of its diesel vehicles to trick emissions testing so it looked as if the cars were more environmentally friendly than they were.

The test will come at the Detroit Auto Show, which starts Monday and runs through January 24. Industry executives insist the scandal has blown over and Americans are interested in diesel again.

Wissmann says the plan is to talk up the advantages of diesel in terms of reduced carbon dioxide emissions and better mileage. Another talking point is how it is not impossible to make a diesel car adhere to air quality standards.

Nor does Wissmann think the emissions scandal will incur too much harm on the German car market, especially when the auto show is a chance to highlight a series of new German models.

"We're especially strong in the US market in the premium sector. Our companies have a 40-per-cent market share here," he said.

But others say the damage has been done.

"Looking at market share, German carmakers hit their best market position in 2012, with 8.8 per cent," says Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer of the University of Duisburg-Essen. The figure fell to 8 per cent in 2015, primarily because of lagging Volkswagen sales.

He warns that the Volkswagen scandal could impact all German carmakers.

"Dieselgate means this (diesel) technology, which was already not particularly loved or popular, has sustained damage that is difficult to repair," says Dudenhoeffer. The problem is even worse when considers that marques like BMW, Mercedes, Audi and Porsche have based a lot of their sales strategies on diesel.

The future lies in gas-electric hybrid cars, he notes. But VDA says this might be an opportunity, since every fifth electric car sold in America was made by a Germany company.

The German carmakers also hope to build up their brands with a focus on internet-networked cars.

"The highway to digital mobility is being built rapidly. We see the IT industry here as a partner to the automobile industry."

Last update: Tue, 28/06/2016 - 17:25

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