A Lot of People Were Protesting Cars in Germany Over the Weekend, but SUVs Received Special Attention

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Thousands of people amassed in Germany over the weekend to protest the automotive industry. Ground Zero was in Frankfurt, with an estimated 15,000-25,000 people marching past the Frankfurt Motor Show holding signs condemning the internal combustion motor and promoting environmental awareness. Dozens of people also made it onto the trade show to demand the event be shut down or reformatted to focus entirely on eco-friendly transportation.

Sport-utility vehicles and crossovers were also a focal point of activist ire. Many called for their banishment from German cities after four pedestrians, including a three-year-old boy, were fatally struck by a Porsche Macan earlier this month in Berlin. However, the segment’s slightly higher dependance upon fuel was also a sore spot for many activists.

“Such tank-like cars do not belong in cities,” Stephan von Dassel, Green politician, bicycle enthusiast, and mayor of Berlin’s Mitte district, tweeted in German. “They are ‘climate killers’, even without accidents, every driving error becomes a life-threatening danger for innocent people.”

Thanks to its highly publicized emissions scandal, Volkswagen has found itself a repeat target for activists. In Frankfurt, many were able to get inside the show to keep that tradition alive — resulting in people climbing atop vehicles in the VW booth to chant environmental slogans and hoist protest signs. BMW received similar attention. The main stage was also stormed by activists carrying anti-automobile banners when German chancellor Angela Merkel opened the trade show to the public.

Most protestors were simply demanding a “climate-friendly transport revolution” and a ban on sport-utility vehicles — measures that have become more popular in recent years.

“German car companies invested more money in advertising for SUVs than in all other car segments combined,” Benjamin Stephan, who works on transportation issues for Greenpeace, told the Los Angeles Times. “They’re fueling the rising demand for SUVs with these ads and doing everything they can to get people to buy these big cars because of the fat profit margins”

“We’re in the middle of a climate crisis, and the car industry just doesn’t get it,” he continued. “They’re here celebrating their gas guzzlers instead of looking for ways to get away from combustion engines.”

Greenpeace also released a statement prior to the protests, condemning manufacturers for continuing to sell so many vehicles that burn gasoline or diesel fuel. It also faulted Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW for producing a combined global carbon footprint of 878 million tons of C02 in 2018, a figure it said exceeded the overall emissions of Germany within the same timeframe.

We’ve repeatedly noted that shopping your way out of an environmental issue creates a myriad of new problems. Major changes often have unintended consequences and shifting toward EVs overnight while banning internal combustion vehicles (even in select areas) would temporarily upend the economy and require a massive expenditure of energy, converting otherwise functional automobiles into scrap. But the automotive industry is also guilty of pushing for higher-margin vehicles and promoting SUV/CUVs like mad — vehicles that, averaged out, are not as energy efficient as a less weighty car — and can be faulted for trying to circumvent regulatory mandates in the past.

As you might expect, people hold opposing viewpoints on the issue.

“It’s a really stupid idea to ban SUVs from the cities,” Razak el Beja, a naturalized German and VW Tourag owner who moved from Tunisia 50 years ago to work as a car mechanic, told the LA Times. “The environment is already a mess. What’s the point of stopping SUVs from coming into the city when you have delivery trucks and 18-wheelers everywhere as well?”

According to the outlet, he was one of the few SUV drivers openly willing to speak to the press.

Bernhard Mattes, the outgoing head of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, announced his resignation as protestors began to descend on Frankfurt. On Thursday, he also suggested that automotive trade shows may no longer be able to exist if automakers continue to bow out of trade shows and environmental activists continue requesting an eco-friendly shift.

“We have made several changes already,” he said. “It’s not about how many cars, how many visitors, how many square [meters]. First we have to agree on a fresh concept, then decide [where] to display this best.”

Interestingly, not every group was there to press for EVs. Activist group Sand in the Gearbox claims that all cars are archaic forms of transportation, including electrics. It was present in Frankfurt to encourage people to abandon automobiles entirely. “Electric cars are far less ecological than the car industry is assuming,” group organizer Tina Velo told the Financial Times.

“What they present here is not the model of the future,” she continued. “All the innovations are coming now from California, China, they are much more advanced, and the German car industry is coming way too late.”

In truth, Germany is likely on the cutting edge of car technology. FT reported that the German Economic Institute in Cologne recently published analysis proving that the country’s automotive industry filed almost half of all patents in the last year, up from about 30 per cent a decade earlier. Meanwhile, innovations from Germany’s other industrial sectors have dropped significantly.

[Images: eugeniusro/Shutterstock]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • ThomasSchiffer ThomasSchiffer on Sep 17, 2019

    As a German and SUV fan (and driver) I am outraged at the stupidity and annoyance which these ‘climate activists’ combine. A few months ago during the height of the climate change hysteria I already received a hatred letter from these Friday for Future ‘activists’. They attached it to my windshield. I guess I was lucky they did not smash in my windshields or physically damage my SUV, because other SUV drivers were not as lucky. The hate against the automobile in Germany is being socially engineered by political parties, namely the Greens and Die Linke (the successor to the East German SED [communist] party). It is their desire to stop individual mobility and force everyone into mass public transportation. That is their goal, and they are brainwashing the German youth into hating the product which has brought prosperity and high living standards to my country. It is unbelievable what is happening here. One more thing. This ‘activist’ Tina Velo (that’s not her real name) appeared on the German talkshow Maybrit Illner (along with Volkswagen boss Herbert Diess) where she was allowed to spew her garbage. I saw the show. Now, I am usually calm, rational and in control of my emotions. But in this case I had a desire to physically slap her in the face and give her a good punch for a good measure. She made me a very angry man. Miss Velo demanded car-free cities and slandered all types of cars, including the electric car. She wants to live in a world in which cars do not exist. According to her twisted beliefs we should all use public transportation (remember, she hates cars, so this does not include buses) such as trains or subway trains and streetcars. Those of us who are in good health should walk or use bicycles - including riding them from city to city. This woman is insane in my opinion. And in a few months we can all rejoice at even more expensive fuel prices thanks in part to idiotic German teenagers and several political parties demanding a carbon tax. By the year 2030, we will be paying 60 cents extra per liter of gasoline and 61 cents extra per liter of diesel. With fuel prices currently in the high 1.60 / per liter (premium gasoline), this would mean that in the year 2030 we will be paying 2.20 Euros per liter, or roughly $9 or $10 per gallon if my calculations are correct. All of this madness because some people believe we can stop global warming by cutting down on the use of fossil fuels.

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    • Hummer Hummer on Sep 19, 2019

      @ThomasSchiffer That’s a sad place to be, certain people have attempted to AstroTurf similar ideas into our country with limited results. Our youth seems to be turning to the right and away from such ideas but looking at our media you would think our entire country was far-left. As you said, open discussions in our media about various topics is quickly shouted down, most of us can tell they lie to us, even before Trump ever made it a point I think most of our country could see the majority of the media, owned by so few individuals that are against us. Certain people will scoop up anything they’re told as long as they believe the source, but most do not. As the case has been for the last 20 years through multiple wrong predictions, Americans just like Germans are treated like dopes and expected to believe man-made global warming as a religion. The only solution is for the government to save us by taking away our rights. It’s an hilariously poor argument that hinges on muffling any form of non conforming thought.

  • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Sep 17, 2019

    I totally agree with protesters. Germans invented ICE and car and they have to lay it to rest. I learned at training we had at work that most innovative countries are US, Israel, Japan and (surprise, surprise) Nederland. China was not on the list - they steal not invent. Germany is old fashioned country and fell behind times. Before WWII Germany was the leading country in science at least. US has a huge advantage over all other countries - it is immigration - all talented people from around the world aspire to immigrate to US to become rich and famous. It is impossible in China, Korea and Japan and in Europe too. There is a such a thing as an American Dream - it is unique to America. There is no Chinese or Canadian or European dream.

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    • Inside Looking Out Inside Looking Out on Sep 18, 2019

      @stuki You mean clear water revival?

  • Ajla No, with a "classic" I want the entire experience, not just the styling exercise so I'd have zero desire to remove the period engine**. With a normal 3-7 year old used car such a conversion being economical while I'm still above ground seems unlikely. **If the car is already ripped apart then whatever but otherwise I lean heavily to no major alterations.
  • Jalop1991 Whole lotta EV hate here.
  • 28-Cars-Later They were mocked as whales in their time but the last B-bodies really were ideally suited for decades of family use and long distance travel.
  • 28-Cars-Later "Naturally, GM turned to its most tech-forward engineering team to work on the [Cadillac] Northstar: Oldsmobile."The most GM phrase I have seen yet.
  • Carson D The automotive equivalent of necrophilia appeals to people who have no redeeming social value.