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German carmakers offer to help reduce emissions

Reuters
German automakers yesterday offered to help cut inner-city pollution by updating the software of 5 million diesel cars in an attempt to avert vehicle bans.
Reuters
Reuters

Protesters hold up bicycles to demonstrate against Germany’s “Dieselgate” in front of the German Ministry of the Interior. Ministers and car executives agreed to cut inner-city pollution to stave off bans on diesel cars and restore the tarnished reputation of the country’s auto industry yesterday. 

German automakers yesterday offered to help cut inner-city pollution by updating the software of 5 million diesel cars in an attempt to avert vehicle bans and repair their reputation.

Since Volkswagen admitted to cheating US diesel emissions tests in September 2015, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has come under fire for not doing enough to crack down on vehicle pollution and for being too close to powerful carmakers.

The issue has become a central campaign topic ahead of next month’s national election, prompting the government to call crisis talks yesterday to show it is taking action as environmental groups try to force bans on diesel vehicles.

But ministers are also wary of angering the drivers of 15 million diesel vehicles and damaging an industry that is the country’s biggest exporter and provides about 800,000 jobs.

The VDA automakers lobby said its members had agreed to pay for software updates of 5 million cars, including 2.5 million VW cars that have already been recalled, to reduce their average emissions of toxic nitrogen oxides by 25-30 percent.

The move should cut pollution at least as much as driving bans proposed in major cities, the VDA said in a statement, adding: “The car industry knows it has lost a lot of trust. We must and will work on winning back that trust.”

The stakes have risen for German carmakers in recent weeks. Britain and France have announced plans to eventually ban all diesel and petrol vehicles and Tesla has launched its first mass-market electric car.

Meanwhile, German manufacturers BMW, Daimler, Audi, Porsche and VW are being investigated by European regulators for alleged anti-competitive collusion.

An opinion poll published yesterday by Die Welt newspaper showed 73 percent of Germans want politicians to take a tougher line with the car industry on air pollution.

German car sales data yesterday showed diesel car sales fell 12.7 percent in July. Now diesel makes up only 40.5 percent of new car sales in Europe’s largest car market, down from 46 percent at the end last year.

“We need to save diesel ... but there must also be a new push into the electric era,” said Armin Laschet, premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, home to about a third of Germany’s automotive suppliers and Ford’s European headquarters.

Activists from Greenpeace hung a banner across the facade of the German transport ministry yesterday proclaiming “Welcome to Fort NOX,” a play on the abbreviation for the toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted by diesel vehicles.


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