Sizing Up Germany

Germany at present still ranks as the world's fourth-largest economy. And on a per-capita basis, its income level — at about $41,000 — ranks 18th globally, placing it right behind France, Canada and Japan. We wonder: In which of these areas does Germany rank first in the world?

A. Exports
B. Solar power
C. Cars

A. Exports is not correct.

Since it surpassed the United States in 2003, Germany had been the world’s largest exporter. However, during the current global economic crisis, China has pulled ahead of Germany, becoming the world's largest exporter for the first time in 2009.

Last year, Germany's exports totaled $1.187 trillion — just behind China's $1.194 trillion. Each country currently accounts for just under 10% of world exports. In comparison, the United States, in third place, accounts for 8.2% and fourth-ranking Japan for 4.3%.

B. Solar power is correct.

Looking around the world, Germany is not the place that first comes to mind as the country where the most solar power is generated. And yet, it has the world’s largest capacity of installed solar panels. More than half of the world's solar power is produced in the country.

This achievement is, in part, due to the German government's focus on promoting environmental technologies — and a willingness to subsidize manufacturers in this growing field at a time when the unit costs are still relatively high.

Dampening Germany’s enthusiasm for solar power is the fact that it lost the title of the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels to China in 2007. Today, well over two-thirds of all solar panel production now occurs in Asia.

C. Cars is not correct.

Beginning in the 1930s, General Motors held the title of the world's biggest car manufacturer until being overtaken by Japan's Toyota by the end of 2008. Toyota thus surpassed Detroit-based GM even before the U.S. company underwent its bankruptcy reorganization in June 2009.

While Toyota still ranks as the world's number one car company, it is suffering from negative publicity over multiple vehicle recalls, as well as its over-reliance on the U.S. and Japanese markets — two factors that are expected to harm Toyota's sales prospects.

Germany's Volkswagen believes it can overtake Toyota as the world's top car manufacturer by 2018. Compared to its Japanese competitor, it benefits from a broad product portfolio, a greater emphasis on fuel-efficient vehicles and a strong presence in China.

Word count: 402