Diesel Scandal

Automakers on Hook to Avoid Driving Bans

dieselpump, GM1E8431K9C01
Picture source: Reuters.

The German government warned automakers that it’s up to them to avert bans on diesel cars as evidence mounts in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions scandal that the engines do in fact spew excessive amounts of pollution.

“I see the responsibility lying with the auto industry that it doesn’t come so far,” Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks told Handelsblatt. “They have to retrofit the affected vehicles as quickly as possible, and at their own cost.”

The warning comes as the Munich city government considers a ban on certain diesel vehicles and other local governments debate the issue. Ms. Hendricks and Transportation Minister Alexander Dobrindt will chair a National Diesel Forum next month to discuss ways to avoid a ban.

German automakers have focused on diesel engines instead of electric cars or hybrids as a way of reducing emissions, but the scandal calls that strategy into question.

“Driving bans are not an end in themselves,” Ms. Hendricks said, “but could in any case be the last means” to dampen emissions.

In Munich and elsewhere, authorities have measured excessive amounts of nitrous oxide, the emission that VW’s emission-cheating software artificially suppressed in government tests. Monitoring of actual road performance indicated that actual emissions are much higher.

German automakers have focused on diesel engines instead of electric cars or hybrids as a way of reducing emissions, but the scandal calls that strategy into question.

Government and industry have yet to agree on a solution to avert driving bans. There is considerable confusion about the forum itself with no clear idea yet of who will be taking part. What updating of older vehicles is required, who should pay for it and what restrictions there will be on new cars are all open questions.

“We want to reduce emissions across Germany,” is the way Mr. Dobrindt summed up the objectives of the forum. His ministry is less enamored of driving bans, calling them “the wrong political approach.”

The environment ministry is more skeptical about retrofitting. The ministry will only approve a plan if there is an inspection regime along with it. In the end, the result has to be right, according to the ministry officials.

The finger-pointing leaves government officials and industry executives at odds with each other ahead of the forum.

The state government in Baden-Württemberg, home to Daimler and Porsche, is urging focus on the bigger picture. “In light of the pending re-invention of the automobile,” government spokesman Rudi Hoogvliet said, “the controversy over diesel is secondary, because this transition process will decide the future of the auto industry, including suppliers, in Germany.”

Barbara Gillmann is covering politics for Handelsblatt in Berlin since 2002. Silke Kersting reports for Handelsblatt from Berlin, focusing on consumer protection, construction, environmental policy and climate change. Dietmar Neuerer covers domestic politics for Handelsblatt from Berlin. To contact the authors: neuerer@handelsblatt.com, kersting@handelsblatt.com, b.gillmann@handelsblatt.com

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