Matthias Mueller, CEO of Volkswagen, thinks about the future (Photo: Alexander Koerner/Getty Images)

On Wednesday, August 2, leaders of Germany’s automobile industry and politics will, under a cloud of dieselgate and carcartel scandals, meet to discuss the future of the industry, and how to get out from the crisis alive. We should not expect signals for an impending death of fossil-fuel powered cars, like when the UK committed to end their sale by 2040. “To set a date like 2040 does not make any sense,” said Germany’s Minster of Economics, Brigitte Zypries. Then she put her foot in her mouth, saying that “while the UK builds nearly no cars anymore, Germany is one of the largest producers of cars in the world, with more than a million of jobs depending on that industry.”

When German media needs a quote on the car industry, their go-to man is Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, director of the CAR-Institute of the Duisburg-Essen University in Germany. Dudenhöffer promptly delivered, calling the minster’s comment “fake news.” He even sent me a handy chart with the true data.

The truth about UK car production

CAR Institute?SMMT

The truth about UK car production

“In 2016, the UK had a car production of 1.722.698 units,” said the professor. “That is 30% of Germany’s production.” After Germany and Spain, the UK is Western-Europe’s third-largest producer, the professor added, suggesting that the minister “either talks without knowing the facts, or she produces disinformation in the pursuit of political goals.”

Kicking the can 23 years down the road is easy for a politician who will long be retired by then. Doing something now appears to be way harder.

The Wednesday summit is a last-ditch effort to avert a wholesale crash of diesel sales in Germany. In the year after the dieselgate scandal became public, “Germany’s diesel car market remained a comparative island of calm,” said Matthias Schmidt in his influential AID Newsletter. By the end of 2016, the diesel take rate in Germany stood at 48%, virtually unchanged from the year before dieselgate.

Then suddenly, diesel cratered.

“All this earlier displayed serenity appears to have given way to a sudden spell of panic,” wrote Schmidt. In the month of June, the rate of newly registered diesel cars was in a free-fall, it had dropped to 39.9% at the least reading. When summit members convene on August 2, they should have July numbers in their folders, and they are expected to be worse.

It is not a sudden pang of environmental responsibility that drives Germans away from their beloved diesel cars, it is the fear of being driven out of their cities. Environmental activists in Germany have long given up trying to get German regulators on their side. The group has better luck in the courts, and diesel driving bans loom in 16 cities of Germany. In a landmark case, last Friday, a Stuttgart court backed efforts of environmental group DUH to ban diesel cars…