German Chancellor Angela Merkel spoke at IAA 2019 today amidst heavy criticism of the event by environmental activists who had called for boycotting the international auto show, in an attempt to raise awareness of the rise in transport-related carbon emissions. Merkel started her address by pointing out to the “Herculean task” that lay before the auto industry to mend its ways and push toward a future that prioritizes sustainable mobility.
“If climate protection is a task for mankind – which I believe – then we have to pay this price, because otherwise, we pay completely different prices,” said Merkel. She urged the auto industry to work toward manufacturing “more efficient, climate-friendly vehicles” while agreeing that the European climate goals of 2030 are a considerable challenge that needs cooperation on all fronts.
“The cars are really climate-friendly only when the electricity comes from renewable energy,” she said while talking about the need to build electric vehicles.
The IAA this year has been underwhelming, as the trade fair visibly reels under the impact of Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal, the depth of which is still being monitored. Merkel briefly touched on the scandal, contending that it has led to a loss of trust amongst consumers over automakers when they claim to produce low-emission vehicles.
“The problem of the inadmissible defeat device, which has led to a loss of confidence – in the midst of a huge change – has a negative impact. That’s why it’s right and important that the industry is showing reliability now,” said Merkel.
“I believe it would be a mistake to think we could come up with state subsidy programmes that will match the innovations of the coming 10 years,” said Merkel, while talking about reducing carbon emissions. “You still never know quite how revolutions are going to turn out, and that’s why we must organize them in as evolutionary a way as possible.”
The IAA attracted roughly around 800 exhibitors this year, a significant fall from the 1,000 that put up stalls last year. Several key automakers have raised concerns on the format of the IAA, querying on the possibility of discussing topics related to sustainable mobility rather than just showcase car models. That said, the IAA might be discontinued from being conducted in Frankfurt as has been the tradition, with authorities mulling on shifting the location to Cologne or Berlin in the future.
Frankfurt Mayor Peter Feldmann, who usually turns up to the IAA for an address, was uninvited by IAA organizers after they realized that he would be censuring the IAA for its boisterous support of SUVs, when the German city was in dire need of more public transport rather than adding more cars on the road.
This was in direct contradiction to Bernhard Mattes, the president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) who while addressing the IAA gathering, exclaimed that talks of banning SUVs must not be encouraged, pointing out that acceptance and innovation were the key to transformation and not choking regulations.
Meanwhile, climate activists protested outside the IAA premises, calling for green transportation and clamouring for the shutting down of diesel and gasoline car manufacturing units, which they termed as “climate killers.” Greenpeace activists also climbed on car roofs holding bright yellow placards in full view of Merkel as she toured the VW booth at the IAA.