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Merkel rival slams car bosses in bid to revive campaign

[BERLIN] German Chancellor Angela Merkel's chief challenger in a September election, Martin Schulz, on Sunday launched a stinging attack on the country's dieselgate-tainted car industry as he sought to turn around a flagging campaign.

The leader of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) said drivers should not have to pay for the mistakes made by "irresponsible managers" with six-figure salaries.

"The problem is that we are in a situation where managers worth millions, at Volkswagen, at Daimler, have slept through the future... and did not invest where they should have," he said in an interview with public broadcaster ZDF.

Germany's crucial automaking sector is facing an unprecedented crisis following Volkswagen's admission in 2015 that it installed software in 11 million diesel engines to cheat emissions tests and make the vehicles seem less polluting than they were.

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The scandal has deepened on recent revelations that a group of carmakers for years colluded on technical specifications, including emissions technology.

The growing controversy has fuelled public anger and intensified calls to get dirty diesels off the road, making it impossible to ignore on the campaign trail.

Mr Schulz, whose party is trailing Mrs Merkel's conservatives by 14 points according to the latest poll, said diesel drivers should not have to "foot the bill" for software updates and trade-ins.

He has also proposed an EU-wide quota for electric cars.

Mrs Merkel on Saturday also slammed car executives, accusing them of "gambling away incredible trust".

But she dismissed the idea of quotas as too difficult to implement.

With six weeks to go until the September 24 vote, the latest Emnid poll for the Bild am Sonntag newspaper put support Mrs for Merkel's conservative CDU/CSU block at 38 per cent, followed by the SPD at 24 per cent.