German car companies are winners in the diesel game

This week’s deal in Berlin to avoid court-ordered diesel bans in German cities looks as dodgy as the emissions problem

A road sign in Hamburg’s Max Brauer Allee warning  motorists that older diesel vehicles are banned from using this stretch of road in the north German city.  Photograph: Getty Images

A road sign in Hamburg’s Max Brauer Allee warning motorists that older diesel vehicles are banned from using this stretch of road in the north German city. Photograph: Getty Images

 

With apologies to Gary Lineker, the diesel crisis is a game where two sides run around for three years and, in the end, German car companies win.

This week’s deal in Berlin – aimed at avoiding court-ordered diesel bans in German cities – looks as dodgy as the diesel car emissions problem it aimed to solve.

On paper companies have agreed to incentives for car owners who trade up to a new car and retrofits for those want to keep their older Euro-4 and Euro-5 diesels. But the offer applies only to drivers in 14 cities where court-ordered diesel car bans are already – or soon to be – reality.

And companies, determined to avoid retrofits on millions of cars costing €3,000 a pop, are determined to minimise the number of such retro-fits on car exhausts. VW and Daimler are sending mixed signals, insisting they will only pay and play along if others do, which seems unlikely given the outright refusal of BMW and Opel.

Unimpressed by politicians’ demands that they must finance retrofits, Germany’s car companies are focused on what they do best: selling. Daimler will offer incentives of up to €10,000 while BMW’s top offer is €6,000. But you get nothing if, furious at being defrauded by the Germans, you’d prefer to buy a clean Japanese hybrid instead.

After defrauding millions of customers, Germany’s powerful car lobby is now holding them hostage, with active support of the Berlin government.

Politicians here are not interested in clearing the air – figuratively or literally – but a win-win deal that spares the car industry and allows them tell voters they have headed off diesel bans before two state elections here in October.

Any German consumers unable to afford a new car, or who thought they had a right to a free fix or return of a mis-sold product, can go and whistle.

But Germany’s diesel drama is not over yet. The final say on whether this latest deal is enough to avoid diesel bans in Frankfurt, Stuttgart and elsewhere rests not with politicians but with the courts.

Already reaction from environmental groups, consumer organisations and the media has been overwhelmingly negative. Germany’s long-promised diesel fix, they say, is a fix.

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