COMMENT: Even in Tokyo, the German legend lives on

COMMENT
Arjen Bongard is editor of Automotive News Europe, and acting editor for Automobilwoche

The attendant in the New Otani Hotel in Tokyo does not give much thought to Germany's problems or the politics of a grand coalition. But he has a clear conception of what the best cars in the world are, and in his opinion, they come from Germany.

This and many other examples show that the reputation of German automakers is still powerful. So there is no reason to be depressed in the face of job cuts, sales difficulties and technology trends that we seem to have missed.

Post-election fears

German cars still stand for engineering skill, quality and success throughout the world.

But many people are fearfully asking themselves how the icon of the German economy will get along in the wake of the Bundestag election, and what a grand coalition under the leadership of a Chancellor Angela Merkel will do for the prosperity of the German auto industry, if it can do anything at all.

That is because all three of the designated ministers who are largely involved with automobiles -- Wolfgang Tiefensee (transport), Peer Steinbrueck (finance) and Sigmar Gabriel (environment) -- come from the Social Democratic Party.

That means the new chancellor cannot apply leverage on them internally through her own Christian Democratic Party.

In any case, the auto honchos have a clear idea of the direction to take: no increase in the value added tax and no toll fees. Income from the oil tax should flow directly into road construction and bureaucratic barriers should come down.

And there must be no lack of support for the Cars 21 European Union initiative, which is designed to make the European auto industry more competitive.

VW masterful with Bugatti launch

No one should bet that anything along those lines will be carried out in the near future. Weeks will pass before the new government is fit to begin work.

Meanwhile, the German industry has to score points on the international stage, and the Tokyo auto show is offering an opportunity for that right now.

Japanese manufacturers typically use the event to showcase technological gadgetry and spectacular design studies.

Volkswagen is using the forum in the most masterful way with its ultraluxury Bugatti brand. The Veyron, the most powerful and fastest production car of all time, is succeeding in attracting the rapt attention of the event's hosts.

The message to the Japanese is clear. In hybrids you may have the edge, and you may be basking in your European growth. But when it comes to pure engineering skill there is no way to get past us.

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