It came as no great surprise to learn that the EU competition authorities are crawling all over the three major -German car-makers, Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler, to investigate collusion via ‘secret technology working groups’ dating back to the 1990s. The most damaging allegation — reported by Der Speigel — is that the three groups colluded over the use of AdBlue, an additive that neutralises -diesel emissions, by agreeing to use small but inadequate AdBlue tanks in their cars when larger, more expensive ones might have done the job properly. (BMW denied that story, but the other two groups declined to comment.)
This follows the 2015 emissions -scandal in which half a million VW cars in the US were revealed to have been fitted with ‘defeat device’ software that switched their engines to a cleaner mode while undergoing environmental testing. Then last year, German and other European truck-makers — accounting for 90 per cent of all trucks made on the continent — were fined €3 billion for price collusion among other sins over a 14-year period. And Daimler, evidently in fear of further bad publicity and regulatory punishment, has just announced a voluntary recall of three million diesel vehicles across Europe to fit ‘software patches’ that will make them cleaner.
Some analysts argue in mitigation that this turmoil is in part the result of governments first favouring diesel engines with tax advantages, then belatedly discovering how noxious they really are. But what it also appears to show — put bluntly — is an embedded willingness to cheat in the German national interest across a sector that accounts for 20 per cent of the nation’s industrial revenues, employs 800,000 people and provides the most visible of all evidence of German economic dominance of the poorer parts of the EU.
But German marques are also -currently under threat of losing a quarter of a million car sales per year in the event of a hard Brexit (according to a much quoted Deloitte report) and losing the technology race for next-generation electric vehicles to the Americans and the Japanese.