Volkswagen is reversing course on the use of controversial weather-altering technology at a major Mexican car plant after local farmers complained that the system caused drought by preventing rainfall.
The German carmaker had installed hail cannons, which fire shockwaves into the atmosphere, at its Puebla site to prevent the formation of ice stones that had been damaging finished vehicles parked outside its facility.
But local farmers said the devices, which were set to fire automatically under certain weather conditions, caused a drought during the months that should have been Mexico’s rainy season.
Gerardo Perez, a farmers’ representative in the area, told the AFP agency that the cannons meant the “sky literally clears and it simply doesn’t rain”.
A group of local farmers claimed that 2,000 hectares (5,000 acres) of crops were affected, and filed a suit claiming 70 million pesos (€3.2m) in damages from the carmaker, AFP reported.
In response, VW said it would install netting above the cars to protect them from hailstorms in the future.
The company’s Puebla plant in Mexico is the second largest in VW’s global portfolio, and its biggest outside of Germany, making 450,000 cars and employing some 15,000 staff.
The carmaker invested in the hail cannon technology to prevent damage to its vehicles earlier this year.
A spokesman for VW said on Wednesday that the company would immediately suspend the use of the machines in automatic mode, following meetings with state authorities this week.
“Once the anti-hail nets are installed in the yards, they will be used as the main measure for the protection of vehicles, while the devices will serve as a secondary tool and will only be used in manual mode,” he added.
“With these actions, Volkswagen de México expresses its commitment to maintain sustainable relationships with its stakeholders: environment, neighbouring communities and authorities.”
Hail storms present significant problems for car manufacturers, which often have large numbers of finished vehicles parked outside at distribution centres or plants.
In 2008, a freak hailstorm in Germany caused millions of pounds of damage, including chipped paintwork and dented bodywork, to thousands of VW vehicles at its Emden facility.
Typically carmakers install canopies or netting over the parking areas to protect vehicles, though some also use the cannons.
When Nissan installed cannons at its Mississippi plant in 2005, neighbours complained about the noise of the devices, which push water droplets away to prevent them from forming hail, firing off shockwaves every six seconds during stormy periods.
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