Merkel to open Frankfurt auto show under diesel cloud

Frankfurt am Main : Chancellor Angela Merkel will formally open the Frankfurt car show on Thursday, where she will face a delicate balancing act between defending millions of duped diesel owners without alienating Germany's most powerful industry.

With 10 days to go until a general election, the fallout from the 'dieselgate' emissions cheating scandal has emerged as a top campaign issue and cast a shadow over the glitzy FrankfurtInternational Motor Show (IAA).

Once nicknamed the "car chancellor" for her cosy relations to the industry, Merkel has sharpened her attacks on auto company bosses in recent weeks, accusing them of "unforgivable mistakes".

As pollution-plagued German cities mull diesel bans and voters worry about the resale value of their cars, fairgoers at the IAA are bracing for a sterner inaugural speech by Merkel than in previous years.

"It's somewhat frustrating for Angela Merkel to see that the close ties she has nurtured with the auto sector are not helping her right now," said industry expert Stefan Bratzel of Germany's Center for Automotive Management.

"The mood has changed and the government is now looking at the sector and its main players more soberly," he said. 

But Merkel, who is widely expected to win a fourth term, will also be careful not to demonise an industry that employs more than 800,000 people and is seen as the backbone of Europe's powerhouse economy.

On the campaign trail, she has praised carmakers for ramping up their push towards zero-emissions electric cars while continuing to defend diesel -- a technology she has already said will be around "for decades" to come.

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