So Angela Merkel has won a historic German federal election with the highest single party vote since the 1950′s. Clearly the German electorate are pleased with Angela’s handling of the eurozone crisis, which sets Germany apart from the rest of Europe, where most voters have punished their political leadership.
But what does this mean to the EV industry and clean vehicles in general?
Germany are the biggest manufacturers and exporters in Europe, and one of their largest manufacturing sectors is cars, which is one of the largest employers in the country, with a strong labour force of over 870,000 and an annual output over 6 million and a 35.6% share of the European Union. Germany is the fourth largest car manufacturer behind to China, the US and Japan.
If you read the European member states various policies on clean vehicles, in particular the German, UK, French and Italian policies, all of whom are major vehicle manufacturing countries/economies; there is an outward intention to support the automotive industry.
Policy-backed investment designed to support and drive the inevitable transition to ultra low emmission vehicles, is being progressed in a way that offers maximum benefit to the manufacturers and employers within those respective member states – all of the big manufacturing countries want to try to use this massive shift from fossil fuels to ULEVs, to expand and improve their position on the ecenomical world stage. That’s politics, and makes plenty of sense to the voters.
In the case of Germany: that seems to have been taken a step further at times: slowing consumer uptake of ULEVs by hindering the Japanese manufacturers who have a head start on them, and blocking EU policies which make German automotive manufactures less competative.
Germany leads the market in large and luxury vehicles – this is the foundation of their huge automotive industry and success, but ULEVs tend to be small – the smaller and lighter a vehicle is, the cleaner it tends to be: less energy required to manufacture it, recycle it after use, and less energy to move it along. So by default the German automotive industry feels threatened by policies that support ULEVs and low emmisions in general.
Never more blatantly was this demonstrated then when Angela Merkel delayed and attempted to entirely block an EU decision on lower co2 emissions for cars in June this year.
And domestic German support fo EVs has been minimal – unlike the UK, Germany has not introduced a subsidy for electric cars – perhaps because their domestic manufacturers have until recenly, not offered any in their vehicle line-ups?
So clearly Angela Merkel is acting in the interests of Germany’s manufacturers first and foremost, and success in that respect has likely gained her votes and re-election.
So how has the political lansdcape changed moving forwards?
Angela Merkels’ Christian Democrat party (CDU) managed 41.5 per cent of the vote, a lead of 17 points over the main opposition – a historic third term and a significant share of the vote, almost a majority, which is unsual in German politics with the last one happening in 1957.
But previous coalition partners of the CDU; the Free Democrats, no longer have a seat at all. This will force Mrs Merkel to form a new coalition with arch rivals the SDP, she admitted the difficulty in compromising on policy matters when asked on television whether she planned to reach out to other parties to form a coalition government.
The SPD had the second worst result in history with only 26%, but despite this may well end up with a greater influence on power as part of a CDU led coalition.
The main supporters of clean vehicles; The Green Party, only secured 8.4% of the vote, which is a 3 point drop. This will lessen the influence of the Green party in any left-of-centre coalition, but their allies of choice are the SPD, and so they may also retain influence if they become part of that new coalition – time will tell.
Although the greens have fewer seats, they still have 60, which is higher than many other European member states and they remain one of the most influencial of the domestic Green Parties, more so if they are included in the next coalition, with a bit of support from the SPD.
But should we expect major changes in policy?
The early consensus from political observers after the results yesterday seems to be no – more of the same seems to be the most likely outcome. Angela Merkel is popular because she has managed to steer Germany through a massive, global economic upheaval and the still-happening Eurozone crisis, yet has managed to grow their economic output and maintained an economic surplus, while backing austerity for the other member states, most of whom have large economic deficits.
“Whatever happens this is a massive public endorsement for Angela Merkel, who has established herself as the most powerful female politician ever. Part of her resounding victory must also be seen as a validation of her eurozone policy – expect more of the same. Whether or not the anti-euro AFD makes it into parliament, its strong showing means it could become a force to be reckoned with in the European elections. No matter the coalition outcome, there will have to be a lot of soul searching by the FDP and centre-left. In the end the leadership of these parties could well end up paying the price for their poor showing” – Mats Persson, director of the Open Europe think tank
“There will be little quick change in her policies on Europe, unless there are major developments in a big ailing country such as Italy or France. She is under no pressure at home to change in any case. The main opposition Social Democrats and Greens might bicker and attack her policies, but where and when it matters, in the chamber of the Bundestag in Berlin, they have always voted with her on the key decisions” – Ian Traynor, The Guardian UK’s European editor
So more of the same then?
Angela Merkel is clearly pro-business, and will continue to act in the best interests of German manufacturers and in the case of ULEVs: the German Automotive giants.
It’s fair to say that German car manufacturers have been very slow to support EVs and Hybrids, and have at times seemed almost against them. Even in the last month Prof Dr Thomas Weber of Mercedes was discussing Mercedes support of Hydrogen instead of battery EVs, which although not exactly anti-clean vehicle, is divisive and creating un-necessary battle grounds between technologies, and delaying the infrastructure investment by comparing one to the other.
Then there is the issue of the Combo charging standard, or more specifically: the refusal to adopt Nissan-backed, 13 year established CHAdeMO standard, and attempts to block progression of the Japanese backed CHAdeMO using the European parliament.
That kind of anti-competitive behavior, largely by German car manufacturers using political means, is slowing the industry rather than driving it.
But 2013 has been a year of change.
Car giant Volkswagen have been notably slow until now, but have finally launched a lupo-derived EV called the e-up and are boldly claiming an aim to be the biggest EV manufacturers by 2018: “We are electrifying all vehicle classes, and therefore have everything we need to make the Volkswagen Group the top automaker in all respects, including electric mobility, by 2018″ – Marin Winterkorn, CEO, VW
BMW are making significant investments in EV technologies and manufacturing, with their first EVs entering production this month. Although BMWs first production EV – the i3 – is more expensive than the market leader, and arguably doesn’t offer better value or benefits for consumers, this is still a massive change in direction.
Pretty much every German car maker is now producing hybrids and EVs, and had EV concepts and proof of technology prototypes on show at Frankfurt: GM Opel, VW, AUDI, BMW, Range Rover, Porsche, Mercedes and Smart were all showing EVs or Hybrids.
EV and hybrid sales continue to climb globally, and Japan and America are backing EVs and other ULEV technology and have fast growing markets.
Angela Merkel has not been a friend to the clean vehicle markets and industries, because she has had to act in the best interests of her domestic industries on behalf of her voters. But may be about to change, because the manufacturers are begining to make a shift as they finally recognise that ULEVs are inevitable, and they might sell a few more cars as a result.
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