Tough road to scrap heap

German car production and sales are about to stall, after motoring up to record levels in 1998. After five consecutive years of growth, the industry is facing tougher times amid slowing sales at home and across Europe, new research shows. New car registrations in Germany this year will total about 3.8 million, a 2% rise. […]

German car production and sales are about to stall, after motoring up to record levels in 1998.

After five consecutive years of growth, the industry is facing tougher times amid slowing sales at home and across Europe, new research shows.

New car registrations in Germany this year will total about 3.8 million, a 2% rise. But delivery problems last year mean 200,000 1998 registrations have spilled over into 1999. Without this overspill, registrations in 1999 would be around 3.6 million, down from 3.95 million in 1998, says research from Marketing Systems, a motor industry research company based in Essen.

And from around the middle of the year, the number of new registrations will slow as it moves into line with real demand, the study says.

Decelerating demand in parts of Europe will start to hit Germany’s car makers as 1999 progresses. The nation’s automotive firms export 70% of production to the rest of Europe.

New registrations in western Europe this year will sink by about 2% compared with 1998, Marketing Systems predicts, with sales in certain markets, such as Italy, contracting sharply. In 1998, new registrations in western Europe grew by 6.5% to 14.6 million.

Recycling drive

Years from now, when this year’s newly-registered Volkswagens and BMWs pull onto the hard shoulder for the last time, they might be headed for a new resting place. Engineers at an old steelworks in Duisburg-Rheinhausen in the Ruhr are working to revive the old Krupp plant as a car recycler.

About three million cars a year are scrapped in Germany, creating one of the country’s biggest environmental headaches.

Legislation has made manufacturers responsible for the problem, forcing them to devise a variety of collection and dismantling schemes. The biggest problem is disposing of non-metallic parts. Shredders crush the cars’ bodies in seconds, but also spew out non-recyclable plastics.

The Duisburg project aims to solve the problem by utilising the residual materials in the steelmaking process, burning them as fuel in the steel plant’s furnace and using them as reducing agents in the steelmaking process.

Slag from the plant can be used to fill in roads, while left over non-ferrous metals, in the form of dust, can be recycled in conventional smelters.

The engineers steering the project say it will cost about DM67m to get the plant operational. A Colombian steel company which is developing a similar project in Bogota has already pledged around DM15m.

But more financiers will have to be found if steel is to be produced again at the Rheinhausen site, which once employed 13,000 but has been idle since 1993.

Stuart Penson