BERLIN • Protests forced a last-minute change of venue for emergency talks yesterday between the German government and the country's car industry on the fate of diesel engines, highlighting the tensions surrounding efforts to salvage the beleaguered technology after nearly two years of crisis.
At an unprecedented summit in Berlin, participants relocated nearly 2km to the more secure Interior Ministry after Greenpeace and other protesters descended on the Transport Ministry, where the chief executives of Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW had been summoned to face off with ministers and state leaders.
The participants are seeking to hash out a future for diesel engines despite the steady drumbeat of negative news and concerns about air pollution.
There is a lot at stake for all sides. German carmakers need diesel as a stop-gap technology to buy time to catch up with the electric offerings of Tesla and Nissan Motor.
With less than two months until a federal election, Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose ruling bloc runs the ministry overseeing carmakers, has to ward off criticism that the government is too lenient on carmakers whose industry creates 800,000 jobs in the country.
"We expect a binding commitment from the manufacturers regarding technology and financing of effective measures to reduce the harmful emissions of diesel cars," said Ms Ulrike Demmer, the deputy government spokesman.
The two sides are working on a host of measures to lower emissions of nitrogen oxides, which cause smog and health problems, in Germany's 15 million vehicles which are running on diesel.
In the run-up, carmakers and the government were haggling over software fixes and much more expensive hardware changes that would lift the total bill to around €5 billion (S$8 billion).
Much of that would be shouldered by the companies.
"The manufacturers will play their part to improve air quality in cities and make diesel fit for the future," said Mr Matthias Wissmann, head of German car lobby VDA.
Dealing with the crisis is a difficult balancing act in Germany, where every fifth job depends on the industry and the sector accounts for more than half of the country's trade surplus.
Last year, some 46 per cent of the cars sold in the country had a diesel engine.