Germany is divided about the future of its most important industry: while some automakers pursue electric vehicles, a noisy group of diesel-energy enthusiasts are expressing their frustration through protests.
These have gone on every weekend so far this year, since the first on January 11th.
The first protest took place in Stuttgart — the hometown of Daimler, Bosch, and Porsche — and was organized by Ioannis Sakkaros, who works as a mechatronics technician for Porsche. Since then, hundreds of protesters wearing yellow vests have gathered each weekend to rally against court-mandated driving bans for older diesel cars. The bans were put in place in response to excessive air pollution.
At a rally on February 9th in Munich, where BMW’s headquarters is located, dozens of people chanted a pro-diesel rhyme together, and cheered on speakers who accused “eco-fascists” and “green ideologists” of wanting to destroy the car industry. A man earned applause from the crowd for calling electric vehicles “hazardous waste.”
The debate about the future of cars — diesel or electric — is emotional for many Germans, as the auto industry and its dependent companies employ 1.8 million people, hundreds of thousands of whom work directly with internal combustion engines. But new carbon emission limits and pending bans on diesel and gasoline cars in major markets threaten their livelihoods. German cars are big business, bringing in almost $500 billion annually. And a successful switch to electromobility will cost 114,000 jobs in Germany by 2035, according to predictions from the Institute for Employment Research. After all, electric motors require significantly fewer components and less maintenance than internal combustion engines — which means an annual economic loss that will grow to reach $22 billion in 2035.
“The diesel is only the beginning,” Michael Haberland, who organized the protest in Munich, tells The Verge. “The gasoline engine is next.” Haberland is president of Mobil in Deutschland, a motor club. He feels the European emission limits for air pollution, which are responsible for driving bans, are nonsense. “Are we all supposed to drive electric vehicles now?” he asks. “They just don’t work. The diesel engine, on the other hand, has been a success story for more than 125 years.”
Read more: The Verge