Puebla, Mexico - Mexican farmers have accused German auto giant Volkswagen of "arbitrarily" provoking a drought in the central state of Puebla by using controversial weather-altering technology to protect its newly manufactured cars from hail.
Volkswagen, which has a major plant in Puebla, has been using "hail cannons" - sonic devices that purport to disrupt the formation of hail in the atmosphere - to disperse storm clouds menacing the thousands of newly manufactured cars parked on its lots.
But farmers in Cuautlancingo, the rural municipality where the plant is located, say the controversial technique is causing a drought that has made them lose 2,000 hectares (nearly 5,000 acres) of crops.
Scientists are skeptical over whether the devices actually work, but local farmers say the cannons work so well they have dispersed not only hail storms but all precipitation since May - what was supposed to be the start of the rainy season.
The farmers are reportedly seeking more than 70 million pesos (nearly $4 million) in compensation from the automaker.
"The company can take other measures to protect its cars, but people here can't live off anything but their land," said Rafael Ramirez, the top local environmental official.
Volkswagen tried to defuse the conflict this week by announcing it was taking the cannons off automatic mode and would only fire them when potential hail storms approached. It also pledged to invest in protective mesh to serve as its first line of defense against hail.
Volkswagen launched operations in Mexico in 1965. The Puebla plant is its largest in the world outside Germany. It produces more than 450,000 vehicles a year and operates around the clock, employing some 15,000 people.Sources: El Universal • The Telegraph