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  • Autobahn.....


    According to an Associated Press report, a European Union official called on Germany to impose speed limits on the autobahn to fight global warming, a demand that drew angry responses in a country that cherishes what it calls "free driving for free citizens."

    The call came as the German government makes action against climate change a priority based on directives of the EU and Group of Eight.

    Still, the German environment minister showed little enthusiasm for EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas' suggestion and a group representing the country's auto industry said it needed "no coaching on efficient climate protection from Brussels."

    Many stretches of German autobahn lack speed limits—traditionally a cherished freedom in a rule-bound country. However, growing concern over carbon-dioxide emissions is putting that tradition under renewed scrutiny.

    "There are so many areas in which we waste energy in a completely senseless way and burden the climate," Dimas told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

    "A simple measure in Germany could be a general speed limit on highways," he added, according to the newspaper. "Speed limits make a lot of sense for many reasons and are completely normal in most EU states, as in the U.S.A.—only in Germany, strangely, is it controversial."

    Dimas' comments drew a slew of largely negative responses Sunday on the daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung's Internet site. One respondent described the debate as a "farce" and questioned the environmental record of Dimas' native Greece.

    Another demanded "free driving for free citizens"—quoting one of Germany's most popular and well-known slogans.

    The German Association of the Automotive Industry, which represents an industry that includes Volkswagen, BMW, Porsche and DaimlerChrysler, said Germany needed "no coaching" from Brussels on how to protect the climate—"above all when the proposals are only symbolic."

    "The German auto industry will act on climate change where there is real potential for savings of vehicle emissions," the group said in a statement.

    Germany’s Environment Minister Sigmar Gabriel said that he has "nothing against (a limit) for reasons of traffic safety" but argued that the restriction would not encourage manufacturers to produce more environment-friendly engines.

    "This is a secondary front and a trivialization of the climate problem," he said at an event in Hamburg.

    A spokesman for the Transport Ministry, Dirk Inger, said a study by a federal agency had found that an overall autobahn limit of 100 kph—or 62 mph—would reduce carbon-dioxide emissions by only 0.6%.

    Each 5 mph a car drives over 60 mph reduces fuel economy by 10%, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

    The impact of an autobahn speed limit on the specialty-equipment industry could be negligible, as its unlikely a speed limit will curb the German passion for car customizing. But some consumers may think twice about buying a supercharger kit for their base Volkswagen.

    Germans may be becoming receptive to the idea, however. Last month, a survey by the Forsa institute for Stern magazine found that 60% would favor autobahn speed limits to cut emissions, while 38% would oppose them. The survey of 1,001 people gave a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

    "I like to drive fast on the autobahn—sometimes I drive up to 200 (125 mph)—but if it is for the sake of the environment, I don't mind slowing down," said Thorsten Einig, 36, an information technology product manager in Karlsruhe who owns a BMW.

    "I think anyone with half a brain understands that we all have to change our habits in order to limit the greenhouse gases."