Schaumstoffherstellerkartell

Foam manufacturers cartel.

The E.U. announced a fine of ~114 million euros for price fixing to several manufacturers of the polyurethane foam used in furniture and car seats. The fine was reduced for companies that provided information about the cartel.

The lion’s share of the foam fine, 75 million euros, will be paid by a U.S manufacturer, Carpenter Co., and the rest by Eurofoam (Austria) and Recticel (Belgium). Because Eurofoam is a joint venture of Recticel and another Austrian firm that does not make foam, the final accounting could get a bit complicated. Foam manufacturer Vita Cayman (Cayman Islands) will not be fined because they’re the ones who reported the cartel to authorities in Brussels.

The cartel manipulated sale prices in about ten E.U. countries, including Germany. Auto seats make up about a quarter of the industry’s sales, said the E.U.’s competition commissioner.

(Sh OW! m shtoff heah shtell ah caw TELL.)

Robotrecht

Robot law, a research center at the University of Würzburg’s law school.

Jurists there are discussing the laws that will be needed for driverless cars, among other things.

The Süddeutsche Zeitung said car manufacturers have come up with a plan to move us to fully automated driving:

“Step 0: Manual driving.”

“1. Assisted driving with distance measurement, parking aids, lane tracking systems.”

“2. Partially automated driving: Drivers will no longer have to steer in certain situations, such as on the Autobahn, but they will remain vigilent.”

“3. Highly automated driving: The vehicle will find its way alone, but a person will still sit behind the steering wheel.”

“4. Fully automated driving: For certain applications such as parking and rearranging cars in parking garages, a driver is no longer necessary.”

“5. Driverless driving: Human drivers will no longer sit behind the wheel in these ‘robot taxis.'”

German car manufacturers are currently working on fusioning all the aids and assists that are on the market now. We’ll be between steps 2 and 3 for about the next five years, an industry representative said.

The head of the robot law working group at Würzburg said if driverless cars are given the status of e.g. an “ePerson,” they can be criminally prosecuted after an injury occurs. This would limit the liability of the auto manufacturers.

(Roe bot RECHH t.)

Neuer Europäischer Fahrzyklus

“New European Driving Cycle.” Contains the rules that define how auto manufacturers must test how many miles/kilometers their vehicles drive per gallon/liter of gasoline consumed. The N.E.F.Z. came into effect in the 1970’s and its mileage testing rules are scheduled to be replaced by the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedures (W.L.T.P.) in 2016, though the European auto manufacturers’ lobby A.C.E.A. is lobbying to delay the new rules until 2020.

Spiegel.de said the Financial Times (paywall) reported on the A.C.E.A.’s attempt to delay stricter mileage tests for four more years. Under the current rules, auto manufacturers can legally reduce gas consumption by hacking the mileage testing of their own products by using “light tires, special lubricants, taping off gaps on the hood or headlights for better aerodynamics. Some unclamp the battery to keep it from being charged, and they test at ideal environmental temperatures.”

The new mileage testing rules would require “more realistic” conditions, including faster accelerations, higher speeds and less idling time for the engines.

Meanwhile, two Spanish hackers who presented about a $26 tool they said they created that let them remotely access steering, speed controls, brakes and heating/cooling, in both a test car from a U.S. manufacturer and a test car from a Japanese manufacturer, said these mini-computers under the hood can improve mileage just by changing a few numbers.

“Would you like to spend less money on gas? Did you know that the difference between 100 horsepower and 130 horsepower version of your car is just some changes in the engine control unit firmware?”

Update on 30 Apr 2014: ZDF heute journal compared car owners’ reported mileage with the considerably better N.E.F.Z. mileage asserted in the manufacturer’s print and video ads for one model, then asked its manufacturer for an explanation. Ford drew their attention to a line in the fine print that said the mileage numbers printed in the offer were not part of the offer.

Then ZDF accompanied an automobile magazine’s consumer product testing of the mileage of several cars, driven along the same varied route during normal working hours by the same driver who is an expert in reducing gas consumption. “No one can get higher mileage out of a car than this guy.” In their test, the Ford model in question used 13% more gas than was advertized as its normal consumption, a Citroen deviated by 0%, a VW beat the value at -1%, an Opel beat the value at almost -2% and a Peugeot used >35% more gas than advertized.

(NOY ah   oy roe PÆ ish ah   FAH tsee clues.)

Bertha Benz

Ms. Bertha Benz undertook the first long-distance automobile trip. In 1888 she drove Karl Benz’s patented motorized wagon, the three-wheeled Patent-Motorwagen, about 60 miles from Mannheim to Pforzheim, refueling by buying petroleum ether at an apothecary’s shop in Wiesloch that now calls itself “the world’s first filling station.”

During the trip, Wikipedians wrote, “she solved numerous problems. …A blacksmith had to help mend a chain at one point. The brakes needed to be repaired and, in doing so, Bertha Benz invented brake lining. She also had to use a long, straight hatpin to clean a fuel pipe, which had become blocked, and to insulate a wire with a garter. She left Mannheim around dawn and reached Pforzheim somewhat after dusk, notifying her husband of her successful journey by telegram. She drove back to Mannheim the next day.”

Deutscher Verkehrsgerichtstag

“German Traffic Court Day,” a misleading calque. This is apparently a fruitful annual meeting of traffic experts, from government and academia, organized by an e.V. association.

This year’s topics included “Data Protection in Cars.” The president of the host association called for regulation of information protection in automobiles, saying modern cars contain up to 80 devices that record data, such as navigation systems and even airbags. He said at the moment it’s not clear whether these collected data belong to the car manufacturers or the drivers.

Cars with airbags, for example, collect information about how fast we’re driving and whether we’re alone. Onboard sensors record whether passengers are wearing a seatbelt. Courts are already hiring I.T. experts to read cars and car toys to determine whether drivers are telling the truth in hit-and-run cases. In leased electric vehicles, companies can remotely shut down the battery if payments are in arrears. A luxury S.U.V. in Cologne managed to trap an alleged car thief inside until police arrived, even though he tried to kick out doors and windows. Customers already using products that reroute them around Germany’s ubiquitous traffic jams by constantly pinging their cars’ locations can have their data unethically used for marketing and other purposes if no legislation controlling this is crafted.

In 2015 all new cars in Germany are scheduled to be equipped with “eCall,” a 911-type emergency services function that will automatically call for help after the car is in an accident but that can also be used to locate any one of these cars at any time. An E.U. press release about eCall said the system doesn’t transmit data about its users because it is usually “sleeping.”

(Doytcha   fair CARES g’RICHHTS tochh.)

Wer wirklich wissen wolle, welche Wagen am bestgewertet seien…

“Anyone who really wants to know what vehicles are the most highly rated ones…” should not consult Germany’s Munich-based A.D.A.C. automobile club’s car rankings, because “someone who has lied before, you don’t believe any more” as Spiegel.de put it.

A giant in German consumer protection has fallen. The Süddeutsche Zeitung saw documents indicating Germany’s equivalent of the A.A.A. car club had manipulated the numbers of readers’ votes received for its “Yellow Angel prize.” Auto industry pundits are now questioning all the group’s data: blue book car values, European tunnel safety evaluations, accident statistics. “If you want to know the most popular cars on German roads, we can only recommend now that you consult the government’s reliable statistics on new registrations,” Spiegel said a competitor car club, the Stuttgart-based Auto Club Europa (A.C.E.), announced in a written statement.

The hundred-year-old advocacy group, at ~19 million members one of Germany’s largest associations and Europe’s biggest car club, was a mixed-purpose, highly entrepreneurial group that did lobbying work, tested products and services, published a magazine and promoted its magazine, but also did business as an insurer, travel agent, car rental agency, long-distance bus company and of course provided much-appreciated roadside emergency aid to members with car trouble via a large fleet of highly recognizable yellow autos. They also own some small planes and 51 helicopters, apparently, supposedly for airlifting patients to hospitals but not always. Although it certainly has defended drivers well on some issues in its lobbying work, including supporting the environmentally-friendly side of some pollution questions, its interactions with Germany’s auto manufacturers have at times been problematically “symbiotic,” a Süddeutsche.de op-ed commented. The survey for which readers’ interest was faked was apparently part of the group’s self-promotion work: the A.D.A.C. awarded its “Yellow Angel” prize as usual in a lavish evening ceremony at a royal residence in Munich on Thursday, 16 Jan 2014, calling the Süddeutsche’s publication two days before about the possible manipulations “a scandal for journalism,” only to admit to the accusations two days afterward. The magazine’s editor fell on his sword.

The A.D.A.C. had recently disagreed with the statistics cited by Germany’s new transportation minister Alexander Dobrindt (C.S.U.) and his colleagues in support of the C.S.U.’s biggest goal from the recent election: to impose a car toll on non-German drivers entering Bavaria. Now the A.D.A.C.’s statistics are no longer considered reliable.

Update on 24 Jan 2014: Critics are calling for restructuring of the sprawling “anachronistic” A.D.A.C., saying a car club that takes in 2 billion euros annually can no longer be run like a pigeon fanciers’ association.

Update on 17 Feb 2014: Auditor Deloitte only had access to data going back to 2009, but there appeared to be some general trends in how A.D.A.C. manipulated the automobile brands that were made the official winners of the “readers’ choice” Yellow Angel award. No car manufacturer had two models among the top three winners, even though that did happen several times. Preference appears to have been given to new models. When they announced the auditor’s findings, both A.D.A.C. and Deloitte were still sticking with their theory that the results were manipulated by lone gunmen acting alone, said Süddeutsche.de.

Update on 25 Feb 2014: A.D.A.C.’s business manager has now resigned, after the club’s president resigned, after the communications director-and-magazine editor fell on his sword. >200,000 members have cancelled their memberships.

Update on 09 Mar 2014: Income tax is collected by the states in Germany so I presumed it was the Bavarian tax authority that examined the A.D.A.C.’s tax returns from 2007 to 2009 and decided the club owed 500 million euros in back taxes. The club did not pay an insurance tax even though it “provided grounds for an insurance relationship relevant to insurance tax law” [“ein versicherungssteuerrechtlich relevantes Versicherungsverhältnis begründet“]. But apparently this announcement was made by the federal finance ministry [Bundesfinanzministerium]. The ministry said there would be no criminal trial if the A.D.A.C. paid the half billion. The Registration Court at the Munich Local Court [Registergericht beim Amtsgericht München] is examining whether A.D.A.C. still fulfills the requirements for Verein status, in view of its business activities.

Meanwhile, Spiegel.de described a Wirtschaftswoche article reporting that federal highways money that was allocated but not spent in time in other states got sent to Bavaria, to the tune of an extra 140 million euros in 2013. Four other relatively wealthy states also received extra highways funding in 2013 that poorer states such as Berlin had to give back after not managing to spend it building highways: Lower Saxony (+80 million euros), Hesse (+47 million euros), Rhineland-Palatinate (+40 million euros), Saxony (+38 million). Bavaria’s total federal highways funding in 2013 was 1240 million euros (including the extra 140 million).

Update on 04 May 2014: Spiegel.de has received information that the A.D.A.C. auto club owned about 3.5 billion euros in 2012 in stock, bank accounts and real estate. With its dozens of subsidiaries, the A.D.A.C. auto club had a 2012 gross of nearly 1 billion euros, with about 85 million euros profit. Their next project is to open a car repair franchise, with 150 workshops.

Structurally, a Beirat has been added to the association’s management, whose members include someone from Transparency International and a former judge from Germany’s Constitutional Court. Apparently the A.D.A.C. did not and does not have a supervisory board, despite the enormous wealth and power controlled by the club. After the recent manipulation scandal became public, they added the new Beirat or additional advisory board in lieu of a more powerful supervisory board.

Spiegel wrote that the new Beirat, “at their first meeting before Easter, did not have the impression that the club was starting a transparency offensive. Rather, the top management at A.D.A.C. seemed motivated by the question of what actions would have to be taken for the club to retain its legal form of an e.V. registered association. The Munich Registration Court has been reviewing this privilege, which gives the A.D.A.C. certain advantages, for weeks now.”

(Vay ah   VEE ah click   VISS en   VULL ah,   VELL chh ah   VOGG en   om   best gah VAY ah tett   zye en)

“Wenn das Angebot erst einmal in dieser Breite vorhanden ist, dann wird die Nachfrage sich einstellen”

“When supply is available in this [amplitude/latitude], then the demand will adjust,” transport minister Peter Ramsauer (C.S.U.) said at the May 2013 electromobility summit in Berlin, explaining how supply was going to drive demand for electric cars in Germany. Though his government certainly wanted more electric cars on German roads, they said they would continue not giving individual consumers subventions or tax rebates for purchasing the expensive but environmentally friendly vehicles. Only ~7000 electric cars were registered in Germany (pop. ~80 million). Electric car prices in Germany were considered high by consumers and everyone—government, car makers and consumers—agreed there weren’t many models to choose from. Auto manufacturers at the government-hosted electromobility conference said on 27 May 2013 they hoped to increase the electric car models for sale in Germany to ~15 by 2015.

Update on 26 Nov 2013: Norway is promoting electric cars more than any other country in the world, with free downtown parking, free downtown recharging, no taxes on purchases of new electric automobiles (omitting 25% V.A.T., import fees and tariffs, import customs charges), no highway tolls and permission to drive in bus lanes. Rich in oil and water, Norway has been selling the oil internationally and using the water to create free electricity for electric cars at home, to meet the country’s 2017 carbon emissions reduction goals. The ~5 million Norwegians own about 14,000 electric cars, which have become the most popular vehicles people are applying to register there, unseating the Volkswagen Golf.

(Ven   doss   ON geh boat   eahst   moll   inn   dee zah   BR-R-R-IGHT ah   foah hond en   issed,   don   vee ahd   dee   NOCHH fr-r-rog ah   zichh   eye n shtell en.)

P.K.W.-Maut

Car toll.

The C.D.U.’s Bavarian state sister party made a strange campaign promise for the Sept. 2013 election that they would levy a toll on foreign drivers entering Bavaria. It seemed this would be illegal in the E.U., in addition to unethical. The C.S.U. said the country of Austria was doing it, so why couldn’t the state of Bavaria? During the sole televised debate between the two biggest parties’ candidates—in Germany’s deliberately foreshortened campaign, kept brief by electoral laws—Angela Merkel quietly said “no” to the foreigner toll. Horst Seehofer (C.S.U.) swore his party wouldn’t sign a new federal coalition agreement with the C.D.U. without it.

The C.S.U. was re-elected in Bavaria and might be able to rule alone there with no coalition partner (they’ve been in charge in Bavaria since 1946).

In a surprise move, after the German elections a decision was announced from the E.U. transport commissioner Siim Kallas (libertarianesque Estonian Reform Party) indicating Brussels might allow such a state tax on foreigners! In the E.U.! Though they backtracked afterward, it still appeared the P.K.W.-Maut might be allowable were Bavaria to make all drivers entering the state pay a toll and then selectively refund it via the annual tax paid by car owners. That method would miss refunds to numerous deserving Bavarians—electric cars and other environmentally friendly cars already get car tax refunds for example—and the C.S.U. was scratching their heads about how to announce that those car owners wouldn’t be taxed like a foreigner. German consumer protection advocates and apparently a study by the country’s equivalent of A.A.A. (A.D.A.C., the General German Automobilclub) said the proposed toll’s stated intended benefit for infrastructure construction was disingenuous because it would create more administration costs than revenue; if this is true it makes the toll appear more racist. The toll would also irritate non-Bavarian Germans, many of whom were already looking askance at the Bavarian conservative politicians’ attempt to stoke up Ausländerfeindlichkeit, hatred of foreigners, and surf it to power.

Thomas Oppermann (S.P.D.) pointed out that, in the grosse Koalition negotiations to form the new government, the C.D.U. had firmly refused the S.P.D.’s campaign promise to inflict new taxes on the rich yet it would allow this new tax on people who aren’t wealthy.

Investigating the issue in more detail, on 07 Nov 2013 ZDF heute journal interviewed a traffic-expert pundit professor who estimated Germany needed ~7 billion euros more per year to fix its road infrastructure, i.e. more than doubling their current expenditures. He particularly used the example of bridges.

Reporting on 07 Nov 2013 seemed to indicate the debate had expanded to include introducing car tolls on all German autobahns, perhaps merely responsible political debating about any potential reforms or perhaps what it might take to weasel in the Bavarian foreigner disincentive under current rules. The numbers are still unclear, with the C.S.U.-led federal transportation ministry estimating much higher revenues from new car tolls than others estimated. ZDF listed approximate annual numbers from countries who’ve already introduced an autobahn car toll:

Austria. Car toll: 390 million euros, truck toll: 1,100 million euros; 800 million euros spent on annual road construction and maintenance. About half the car toll revenues come from foreign drivers. The Austrian car toll is about 80 euros/year, for residents and foreigners alike.

Switzerland. Car toll: 300 million euros, truck toll: 1,250 million euros; 1,250 million euros spent on annual road construction and maintenance. About 1/3 of the car toll revenues come from foreign drivers. The Swiss car toll is about 33 euros/year for residents and foreigners alike.

Germany. Truck toll: 4,600 million euros; ~5,000 million euros spent on annual road construction and maintenance. Estimates for revenues from an autobahn car toll vary between 350 and 700 million annually (the low number is from the A.D.A.C. drivers’ association and the high number is from the C.S.U.-led transportation ministry).

Austria and Switzerland said they spent 7% to 12% of the autobahn car toll revenues on its administrative costs. In Germany administrative costs could be much higher because of the C.S.U.’s plan to return the money to Bavarian drivers by offsetting it from their car tax. The toll might thus merely bring a bad reputation, highly-public permission for anti-foreigner sentiment and at most a few hundred million euros to fix a budget gap of billions.

Update on 11 Nov 2013: The two parties agreed to temporarily stop discussing a new car toll in their grosse Koalition negotiations.

Update on 27 Nov 2013: Austria and Holland threatened to sue Germany before the European Court of Justice if Germany implements the C.S.U.’s car toll on foreign drivers. The negotiated grosse Koalition agreement presented on Wed. 27 Nov 2013 said yes to the toll if it violated no E.U. rules and negatively impacted no German drivers.

Update on 01 Dec 2013: Protesters walked carrying signs on the Bavarian and Austrian sides of the Inntal A12 autobahn, demonstrating against car tolls. Austria had announced it would create a new checkpoint there to verify that drivers had paid its car toll, probably in reaction to Bavarian politicians’ insistence on an anti-foreigner car toll. People living on both sides of the border fear cars will start filling up local roads trying to avoid the highway tolls. Strolling on the autobahn with friends and neighbors looked rather pleasant, and the Bavarian and Austrian mountains there are so beautiful.

(Pair ZOH! nen croft vog EN   m OW! t.)

Dann doch!

“Well, okay then.” Actually, this is yet another thrilled German headline about the warming of diplomatic relations between Iran and the U.S.A. The wonderful détente is very exciting. Hopefully, now, we can all get rich together, a wish expressed by my Iranian kitchenmates at German university ten years ago.

A recently published “history of Iran for beginners” said the country had ~38 auto manufacturing companies, presumably in response to international sanctions. Perhaps innovators like Google or Tesla could work out deals with some of these groups to supply novel parts for renewable-energy car projects. There could now be excellent internationally sponsored engineering programs at Iranian universities, and training exchanges around the world.

(Don DOCK.)

 

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