Merkel not backing diesel hardware retrofits for manufacturers

12 April 2018

12 April 2018

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has played down the possibility of forcing vehicle manufacturers to make hardware retrofits on diesel car exhaust systems as her government tries to avoid driving bans in cities with air quality problems.

Hardware retrofits are not backed by manufacturers due to the cost implications, whereas software recalls involve no parts and little labour. This is why it was agreed a recall of 5.3 million vehicles would take place in August 2017. However, following court rulings that Stuttgart and Dusseldorf must implement diesel bans to reduce air pollution, alternative solutions are being explored.

Tackling the problem of diesel cars with high nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, known to cause respiratory disease, is one of the most pressing policies facing Merkel’s new coalition between her conservatives and the Social Democrats (SPD).

However, Merkel made clear that she had reservations about automakers being made to introduce hardware modifications, such as changing filters in exhaust systems.

′The benefits and costs must be proportionate. Hardware refits are relatively cost-intensive,’ said Merkel. She reiterated she would do everything possible to avoid bans and that she believed in 2-3 years only about ten cities would have excess levels of NOx, compared with about 70 cities originally.

Merkel’s government has been criticised for having close ties with the automotive industry due to its importance for jobs and exports. France and Britain have said they will ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.

Merkel’s comments come as sales of diesel cars fell 25.4% in March, the first month after a court ruled that cities can ban vehicles to tackle pollution, taking a share of 31.4 percent of Germany’s car market, the country’s motor authority, the KBA, said. Overall registrations declined to 347,433 passenger cars last month, down 3.4%.

Merkel, and Vice Chancellor and Finance Minister Olaf Scholz, a Social Democrat, stressed the auto industry was of crucial importance to Germany. ′We want it to be modern and future-oriented,’ said Merkel. ′We also have clear exceptions of the car industry that has made serious mistakes. The customer or taxpayer cannot be made accountable for that. It must be mainly dealt with by the auto industry,’ she said.

She added there were no plans for a summit with carmakers and that the new government was not keen on pursuing ′blue badges’ to indicate how clean a car is, seen by critics as a form of driving restriction. ′Our focus will rather be on individual measures that spare citizens,’ she said.

With demand for electric cars growing only slowly, Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer has released the first €20 million of €175 million in subsidies to fund the purchase of EV for public infrastructure agencies.