Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche at a shareholders meeting in Berlin. File photo: Michael Sohn / AP

Berlin, Germany - Daimler chief Dieter Zetsche has vowed to fight for diesel-powered vehicles, but declined to comment on the latest scandal to rock the nation's auto industry - claims that five car manufacturers were members of a secret cartel.

"Diesel is worth fighting for," Zetsche declared after Daimler unveiled its second-quarter profit amid a growing debate about diesel's future as Germany's emissions scandal widened.

Daimler announced last week that it was recalling more than three million diesel models of its luxury Mercedes-Benz brand from across Europe to correct their emissions performance, with component supplier Bosch and Audi also drawn intro the scandal.

The problems facing the German car industry took another turn for the worse last Friday when the weekly Spiegel magazine reported that Daimler was one of five German carmakers - including rivals BMW and Volkswagen brand groups, Audi and Porsche - that were part of an industry cartel.

Hefty fines

"We are well advised not to join the speculation," Zetsche told reporters, despite demands from industry, union and political leaders for carmakers to shed light on the cartel allegations. The five companies were reported to discuss technology, suppliers, markets, strategies and polluting emissions at the cartel's meetings, which had taken place since the 1990s.

Since then, the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung reported on Monday, Daimler has at least partly withdrawn from the meetings, because of concerns about European competition law. By being the first to reveal the existence of a cartel, Daimler could escape hefty fines under European Union rules, the report said.

In 2011 Daimler was forced to pay a 1.1 billion (R 16.66 billion) fine imposed by Europe's anti-trust authorities over its truck division's membership of a cartel.

Solid gains

But despite the emissions testing scandal that has engulfed the German car industry, Daimler posted a solid gain in second-quarter revenue on Wednesday, thanks in part to strong demand for its new E-Class and SUV models.  Net profit climbed two percent to 2.51 billion (R38 billion) in the three months to the end of June compared with 2.45 billion (R37 billion) in the same period a year earlier.

Second-quarter operating profit at Mercedes-Benz raced ahead by 70 percent to 2.4 billion (R36 billion) following a nine percent rise in sales. Daimler group operating profit in the three months to the end of June rose by 15 percent to 3.75 billion (R57 billion), and it expected "significant growth in unit sales and revenue" for the 2107 year, Zetsche said.

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