COMMENT: Limits of growth

Franz W. Rother is Editor-in-Chief of Automobilwoche

This was never going to end well.

For the last two years, the German auto industry has pushed the limits of engineering to build bigger, stronger, faster cars. A lot of work was done so that these vehicles can easily reach speeds more than 300kph thanks to engines that offer 1,000hp or more.

At the same time, heavier sport-utilities were rolling into the showrooms. These large vehicles were classified as trucks to keep their taxes from going through the roof.

Customers can't get enough of these models.

Volkswagen can barely keep up with deliveries of its Touareg SUV, and Porsche has announced long waiting times for its Cayenne SUV.

A few days ago, MG Rover started selling it XPower sports car, which, if the customer is rich enough and crazy enough, will be delivered with a 765hp engine.

"If necessary," Rover says it could squeeze a few more horsepower out of the engine, as though the world were one big racetrack.

The entire production of Porsche Carrera GTs is practically sold out, and Mercedes-Benz is hopeful that it will soon be able to say the same about the SLR McLaren.

At the other end of the scale, nothing much has been happening in the way of "environmentally friendly" cars.

It is only a matter of time until production of VW's 1.0-liter Lupo finishes; the end is also approaching for the Audi A2, an economical wonder with its 1.2 TDI.

Therefore, it is no surprise that auto manufacturers now face serious problems reaching the targets they set to reduce carbon dioxide emissions - this horsepower race cannot continue without impacting the total fuel usage of the fleet.

The auto industry wants to renegotiate, citing, among other things, that the sophisticated emission controls on today's cars are contributing to air quality, if not making it even cleaner.

But politicians in Brussels and Berlin are not going to swallow this. They are demanding new CO2 measuring methods and a new assessment of automobile tax according to contaminant classification and carbon dioxide emissions.

The automobile industry will not find it easy to wriggle out of its voluntary commitments. That's good, because one should always keep the promises one makes.

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