Stuttgart prides itself as the home of the Daimler car company and the internal combustion engine created by the company's founders.
But now the southwestern German city may soon be home to the country’s first inner-city ban on diesel engines.
In a closely-watched case, with huge implications for Germany’s crisis-wracked car industry, Stuttgart’s administrative court ruled that no measures to improve air quality were as effective as outright bans on diesel vehicles, “and that includes so-called retrofit solutions”.
Alternative industry proposals – to recall cars and update software by 2020 – were, the court ruled, too little, too late.
The judges dismissed industry arguments that an outright ban was disproportionate, saying that citizens’ health trumped the property rights of diesel drivers.
They also dismissed claims that a diesel ban would simply shift the problem elsewhere by saying that, if this happened, diesel bans could be imposed there, too.
Finally the court rejected claims a total ban required a greater lead-in time as “not a factual argument”, an apparent nod to reports of German car company collusion for 14 years on everything from diesel filtering to car seats.
Der Spiegel magazine reports in its latest issue that employees from engineering company Bosch attended meetings with executives Daimler, BMW and the VW group to discuss hiding systematic diesel manipulation from US environmental authorities.
Air pollutant levels
The Stuttgart case was brought by German environmental group DUH. It complained that air pollutant levels in the city had breached environmental standards for years, often by 100 times.
Though the ruling, which is likely to be appealed, didn’t call for an outright ban, the judges said that it saw no way around vehicle bans for the city of Stuttgart to meet its EU obligations on air quality.
The DUH has filed similar claims with dozens of other German cities, including Düsseldorf, Aachen, Bonn, Essen and Cologne.
Any ban would hit millions of German drivers of older diesel vehicles below the new Euro-6 engine standard.
The Stuttgart ruling also raises the stakes for next week's "Diesel Summit" in Berlin, at which auto executives were expected to present plans to save the diesel engine on which rest the fortunes of the German car industry.
"This ruling is the clearest message you can get for the car industry, and in its home base," said Dr Benjamin Stephan, a Greenpeace mobility campaigner. "After all, more people breathe than drive."