BERLIN (Reuters) - Top officials from BMW and Ford defended the German motor industry’s reputation on Thursday, saying their companies had systems to prevent the kind of manipulation that has plunged rival Volkswagen into crisis.
BMW development chief Klaus Froehlich described the software VW used to cheat in U.S. emissions tests as a “no-go”, while the boss of Ford in Germany Bernhard Mattes warned against sinking into a general hysteria set off by the scandal.
Speaking at a motor industry conference in Berlin, both manufacturers tried to distance themselves from VW, which faces possible huge fines, investigations by public prosecutors and an array of civil law suits.
BMW had already denied last week a German press report that it too had rigged emissions tests and Froehlich said such transgressions could not happen at the Munich-based group.
“Should one be cheating or not? A defeat device is a no-go,” he told the conference. “Everyone knows this is a threshold that one must never cross ... At BMW, a system of continuous checks is in operation. Manipulation does not happen with us. I can flatly rule that out.”
Nevertheless, he acknowledged the controversy was likely to rage for at least six months. “I expect the debate to be marked by a distinct lack of objectivity,” he said.
Mattes, country head of Ford, delivered a similar message. “We found out very quickly that we have not been involved in any manipulation,” he said. “We have very tough testing rules that underpin that.”
But he recognized that German industry as a whole, renowned for the quality of its products, was in for a rough few months.
“The strength of ‘Made in Germany’ is not only influenced by the auto industry. Other industries enjoy an excellent reputation, such as chemicals and mechanical engineering,” he said. “We should not, therefore, fall into hysteria.”
Around the Berlin conference, whose advertised theme was the opportunities and challenges of the digital age for carmakers, VW dominated conversation. Some welcomed the debate. “This is not only a diesel issue. It’s about leadership and culture. We will be more contemplative,” said one industry manager who declined to be named.
“I think this is a healthy self-reflection.”
Some 250 industry experts and managers had signed up for the conference but many stayed away, including newly-appointed VW brand sales chief Juergen Stackmann and head of future research Wolfgang Mueller-Pietralla. Four managers from VW’s Spanish division Seat also did not appear.
Not everyone was gloomy. One project manager at a diesel engine component maker, who declined to be named, said his firm expected lucrative business around the turn of the year as VW fixes vehicles affected by the scandal.
At VW’s flagship showroom on Berlin’s Unter den Linden boulevard, a TV was running a commercial under the “Think New” slogan, featuring research and development chief Heinz-Jakob Neusser. He has been suspended since the scandal erupted.
Writing by David Stamp; Editing by Keith Weir and David Holmes