UNDER FIRE: Famous German automotive companies such as Mercedes-Benz have been heavily criticized for continuing to produce "gas-guzzlers" with high CO2 emission rates.
BERLIN Germany - Environmental campaigners have taken aim at famous German automotive brands such as Porsche, Audi and BMW because of their high CO2 emissions.
Germany's tax system, they say, also promotes "gas-guzzlers".
Germany's sports cars, estate cars and 4x4's also enjoy huge domestic popularity due to what one campaigner derided as an "absurd" tax incentive scheme.
"Germany has the most absurd policy in the world of incentivising polluting cars," said Patrick Huth from pressure group German Environmental Aid. Two-thirds of cars sold in Germany are registered to companies, though that percentage rises to 80 for the swankier models.
Companies can offset, for tax purposes, the entire price of the car and fuel without any fixed limit on carbon emissions, as exists in other countries such South Africa. The more expensive the vehicle, the greater the fiscal incentive for companies; in a country where a car is often seen as a status symbol, firms offer employees luxury vehicles to attract talent.
"Companies order heavy vehicles with high fuel consumption because image is more important to them than the fight against climate change," complained Sigrid Totz from NGO Greenpeace.
"This tax law ensures the German auto industry has a domestic market for its premium brands.
GEA has calculated that the tax regime on cars owned by individuals is one of the least strict in Europe in terms of carbon emissions.
Furthermore Huth criticised Germany's no-speed-limit motorways as "the only case in the industrialised world" as an "incentive to buy high-performance vehicles".
Statistics appear to support the campaigners' argument. Germany routinely finds itself bottom of the class when it comes to the CO2 emissions of new cars sold there.
Over the first seven months of 2012, cars sold in Denmark and Portugal spewed out on average less than 120g/km of CO2; the average in Germany is 140g/km, according to manufacturers' data.
Matthias Wissmann, from the VDA association which represents the Germany auto industry, countered that the top companies were striving to improve the situation. "Since 2006, the German brands have cut their average (fuel) consumption by 20%, thanks mainly to billions being invested in improving engine efficiency," he said.
Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, an expert from the Centre for Automotive Research at the University of Duisburg-Essen, said environmentalists should not just point an accusing finger at the top brands.
"Premium German automakers have made more progress than lower-range manufacturers," he told AFP, adding that many top-of-the-range vehicles have similar emissions to less modern and less expensive cars.
German manufacturers "have invested enormously in technology and have no problem respecting the CO2 emission limits in Europe".
Car buyers in Germany do, however, tend to be suckers for horsepower, with a trend for ever bigger engines, a study conducted by Dudenhoeffer in August showed. In the first seven months of 2012 the average power of engines in new cars sold in Germany stood at 103kW, up from a previous record of 101 in 2011 and 98 in 2010.
"Nevertheless," Dudenhoeffer wrote as a conclusion to that study, "more power does not automatically translate into higher fuel consumption, given new fuel-saving technology."