BERLIN (Reuters) - Chancellor Angela Merkel told staff representatives from Germany’s car manufacturers on Wednesday that managers must remedy mistakes made by the industry to win back consumers’ confidence.
Germany’s auto sector was plunged into crisis two years ago when Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) admitted to cheating U.S. diesel emissions tests.
Suspicions of collusion between the country’s carmakers have since surfaced, and they could face “very high” fines if that is proved true in court, European Union Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has said.
The sector’s problem have become an issue in campaigning for a national election taking place on Sept. 24, and many who work in the industry - Germany’s biggest exporter and provider of some 800,000 jobs - are worried about its future.
Antitrust regulators are investigating whether Volkswagen, Porsche, Audi (NSUG.DE), BMW (BMWG.DE) and Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler (DAIGn.DE) held secret meetings to discuss suppliers, prices and standards to the detriment of foreign carmakers.
“The chancellor made it clear that company management must clearly identify and eliminate mistakes in order to regain the confidence of consumers,” Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert, said in a statement after she met the heads of the firms’ employee works councils.
Merkel’s main challenger in the election, Social Democrat Martin Schulz, has criticized her approach to carmakers and called for them to pay for the widening emissions scandal.
Last month, German politicians and car bosses agreed to an overhaul of engine software on 5.3 million diesel cars to cut pollution and try to repair the industry’s reputation.
But many politicians fear Germany’s carmakers are failing to invest enough in new technology and infrastructure.
On Tuesday, Merkel said her government was willing to help manufacturers make the change to cleaner models with low-emissions engines.
Writing by Paul Carrel; editing by John Stonestreet