Further efforts to tackle potential driving bans in German cities

05 February 2018

5 February 2018

German national and local governments are doing all they can to ensure driving bans on diesel vehicles are not implemented in major cities around the country.

A number of authorities in Germany have breached, or are in danger of breaching, air pollution targets, with many believing the number of diesel vehicles on the roads is behind a dramatic rise in poor air quality. Diesels emit less CO2 than their petrol counterparts, however, they do emit higher levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx), which is particularly dangerous to health.

The issue has been on the forefront of the country’s government’s mind, with it becoming a key topic in the run-up to national elections in September last year. In addition, Cologne, Stuttgart and Munich have all suggested they may need to implement bans on diesel vehicles from entering their city limits. However, Stuttgart is fighting off such implementation, with the local government appealing in court against a ruling in favour of environmental groups.

Now, Chancellor Angela Merkel has promised fast additional support for cities with particularly high pollution from diesel exhausts. 

Germany has been asked by the European Commission to carry forward further measures by Friday next week, Merkel said on Thursday following a meeting with the country’s prime ministers in Berlin. For this purpose, ′city-specific talks’ are planned in order to consider which measures are still to be implemented. Merkel made it clear that there are 20 cities that continue to exceed the limit for NOx.

Should inadequate efforts be taken by the country to reduce its pollution levels, Germany could find itself in front of the European Court of Justice, where efforts to control the problem will be forced upon the country.

One potential solution is for vehicles to be retrofitted with hardware upgrades to control emission levels. Following a national diesel forum in August 2017, manufacturers agreed to recall 5.3 million cars for software updates, while drivers of older models were offered the opportunity to exchange their vehicles for newer, less polluting models in manufacturer backed scrappage schemes. A second forum also backed payments to cities to help them beat the problems.

However, at the start of 2018, seven importers of vehicles, Fiat, Alfa Romeo, Honda, Hyundai, Jeep and Peugeot, ended their ′scrappage scheme’ incentives, while Ford has reduced the amount of ′environmental bonus’ it offers. There are calls for the government to step in, offering a direct incentive scheme rather than relying on manufacturers, with a proposal being made in spring.

Hardware upgrades are not popular with manufacturers, as these will cost significantly more to implement. Alongside the three main cities looking at instigating bans, there is potential for a further seven to turn to that course of action, with higher than expected air pollution.

The vilification of diesel shows in the country’s new vehicle sales figures, with a 12% rise in overall registrations, but a 17% drop in diesel purchases compared to the same period last year.