Dieselgate Debate

Carmakers’ diesel fix sparks dealer rebellion

  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    German carmakers embroiled in a widespread engine-rigging scandal could be forced to spend billions of euros to ensure that their older diesel cars meet European emissions standards.

  • Facts


    In early August, VW, BMW and Daimler agreed to outfit some 5.3 million diesel cars with new software that would reduce their nitrogen oxide emissions by up to 30 percent.

    Critics of the manufacturers’ plan say there is no guarantee that new software will convince German cities to drop their consideration of driving bans for older diesel models.

    While the software update would cost carmakers about €400 million ($470 million), another option preferred by dealers – repairing the vehicles’ hardware to meet air quality standards – could run them as much as €10 billion.

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107976803 dpa VW software update
Software update is ready to install – but is it enough? Source: dpa

When the leaders of Germany’s three largest carmakers gathered for their diesel summit in Berlin earlier this month, they took a clear line on the best way to repair their problem cars: with software, not hardware. Volkswagen’s CEO Matthias Müller argued that the industry’s engineers should focus on the future – and questioned the effectiveness of a more labor-intensive approach.

The other reason that Germany’s automotive giants prefer a software update of around five million diesel cars in need of modifications: It would cost those companies about €70 ($82) per car, compared to as much as €2,000 for hardware repairs. For the managers in Wolfsburg, Stuttgart and Munich, the more than €9 billion in combined savings made the decision a no-brainer – but for car dealers, it was a no-go.

The German Federation for Motor Trades and Repairs, or ZDF, represents some 38,000 dealers and garages in Germany – and the group’s president, Jürgen Karpinski, argued that hardware fixes would yield better results. “If the manufacturers want to honor their responsibility for causing the diesel crisis, they should look to develop more effective retrofit solutions as quickly as possible,” he said.

Mr. Karpinski pointed to tests that showed a roughly 90-percent cut in nitrogen oxide emissions for Euro 5 standard engines that were outfitted with Adblue, as diesel exhaust fluid is dubbed in Germany. That kind of reduction, he argued, would be enough to appease city courts, which have threatened to bar certain diesel models from the road.

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