It is an everyday lottery when it comes to fuel prices at German gas stations. Prices for regular unleaded and diesel gas bounces up and down, often changing twice on the same day. And drivers in this car-loving nation are unhappily dealing with increasing prices at the pump.
Record prices on the international oil markets have driven gas prices across Europe sky high, with a gallon of unleaded gas costing about $8.60 per gallon in Germany. (In Germany, gas is sold by the liter with one liter of unleaded fuel selling for an average of $2.29)
The high prices hit people where it counts – in the wallet.
"For us, as a family with two children, the high fuel prices are burdening," said Britta Koester, a nurse who has a 20-mile commute to work at odd hours and no options for using public transportation. "I am totally dependent on the car; the infrastructure in our little town is miserable in that respect," said Koester.
While filling up his small Volkswagen Golf, Dietmar Dannemann, 63, watched the meter at the pump carefully and tried to stop his purchase at an exact amount.
"As a member of the ADAC automobile club, I get one cent discount per liter, but I don't want to get more than 15 liters today, the prices are too high," he explained.
Meanwhile, Susana, a 33-year-old mother of two children, actually traveled across town to get a better price at the pump. "I get gas when I see a bargain," she explained. "And, in my family, we call each other when we spot a station with lower prices."
Still loving the autobahn
But despite the rising costs, Germans have continued their love affair with the open road.
"Our turnover is continuously good. We actually see an increase in fuel purchases every year," said Lars Watzek, the manager of a gas station in Regensburg, Germany.
"Every day, people walk in and complain about the rising prices, but honestly, I don't think our customers will drive less because of that," said Watzek. "Germans are in love with their cars."
In fact, new car registrations in Germany increased by 25 percent this February compared to figures from a year ago. And German manufacturers scored double-digit gains in sales, with Europe's biggest car maker, Volkswagen, leading the way with more than 89,000 new cars sold in the first two months of 2008, according to the German motor industry association, VDA. Last year alone, Germany registered a total of 3.5 million new cars.
Will 'Green Cars' sell?
Yet, European car manufacturers like BMW and Mercedes-Benz – known for their heavy, elegant cars with high fuel consumption – are supporting the trend towards developing more fuel efficient models and cars with alternative fuel technologies. At the recent Geneva Auto Salon, 17 out of the 94 new models were equipped with motors that run on alternative energies.
And, rival Volkswagen announced that the new generation of its bestselling "Golf" model will be available with a hybrid motor by the year 2009. Last week, Volkswagen also said it would roll out more than 20 new models by the end of the decade in a bid to bolster sales to 8 million vehicles by 2011.
But the question remains, will Germans pay up to drive more enviro-friendly "Green Cars"?
According to a new survey among consumers and car industry executives, governments in Europe will have to offer tax breaks to encourage the purchase of low-emission cars – such as hybrids – because most buyers will not pay extra for the technology.
The survey also showed that European drivers so far have not significantly changed their driving behavior in response to climate change concerns. Yet, there also are developments and alternatives in the market that promise a "cleaner future" and less fuel consumption.
The numbers for so-called "auto gas" vehicles – cars that run on natural gas – have been growing constantly in Europe over the past few years. In Germany alone, 200,000 of these environment-friendly models are already whizzing across the high-speed autobahns and more than 3,500 gas stations have installed these futuristic pumps for service.
And for several years now, a number of organizations in Germany have been offering so called "fuel-saving training," courses in which German drivers – who prefer stick shifts to automatic cars – can learn how to minimize fuel consumption.
"We tell our students to up shift early, drive with a low number of revolutions and to turn off the motor during longer halts at traffic lights or train crossings," said Andreas Hoelzel from the German automobile club ADAC.
Watching every drop
Of course, there is always the option for people to walk to town to do simple errands or to use public transportation. But that would require changing habits and factoring in different costs as well.
"I would even take the bus more often," said Dannemann, the retiree who had an eagle-eye on the gas pump in Wiesbaden. "But, I find the bus fees in our city exorbitant," he said, while making sure not to spill one drop of gas at the pump.