German carmakers’ final attempt to swerve diesel bans

Car bosses urge politicians to back purchase incentives instead of costly recall and refit

German car manufacturers have started a final lobbying effort to avoid a multibillion bill to finance engine retrofits planned as a last-ditch attempt to stop diesel car bans in German cities.

Ahead of a crunch meeting on Monday night in Berlin, car bosses urged politicians to back purchase incentives for new cars rather than forcing them to recall and refit existing cars.

Three years after the VW emissions scandal broke, millions of diesel drivers in Germany face uncertainty in the coming months. With court rulings to enforce EU clean air rules beginning to kick in, political pressure was growing for a deal.

A draft version of the deal has three elements: financial incentives to buy new cars; a return programme for older diesels; and retrofits for newer models. One industry pre-condition for retrofits, however, is that all carmakers – not just German ones – are included in any agreement.


"We are all in favour of everything that will make the air in German cities cleaner," said chief executives of BMW, Daimler and VW in a statement to the Bild tabloid. "But we are against a solution that disadvantages German manufacturers in a one-sided way and endangers jobs."

For two years German car companies, who employ about 800,000 people collectively, have refused to finance retrofits, adding an extra filter to exhausts at an estimated at a cost of €3,000 per vehicle. They question the efficacy of such retrofits and, to date, say they will refuse to guarantee their vehicles after the procedure.

Instead BMW, VW and Daimler are proposing cash bonuses for owners of older cars who buy newer, low-emission vehicles.

BMW has reportedly offered a €6,000 bonus, Daimler up to €8,000 and VW about €5,000 per car swap.

While a final agreement is said to include retrofits, a standoff persists on who will pay what. The three companies have offered to pay approximately 80 per cent of the final cost. But leading German political figures have refused to consider any solution that would mean drivers having to co-finance a fix to a problem caused by manufacturers.

Volker Bouffier, state premier in Hesse and an ally of German chancellor Angela Merkel, is facing re-election in four weeks with a court-ordered diesel ban hanging over his state's largest city, the finance capital Frankfurt.

"We don't want any driving bans. And we don't want that diesel drivers end up being the idiots," said Mr Bouffier of the Christian Democratic Union.

Monday evening’s meeting was a last attempt to find a quick way to implement a buy-back and retrofit programme. At least a year is likely to pass before recalls could take place, too late for millions of motors given diesel bans are looming in almost all big German cities.

To date, Dr Merkel has declined to embrace retrofits and instead backed industry proposals for cheaper, and less effective, software updates.

In addition, German cities have introduced their own measures – including speed limits on major traffic arteries and promises to buy cleaner buses – in an attempt to bring air quality within EU limits. But German environmental groups have taken dozens of cities to court and judges have already imposed diesel bans in an attempt to meet EU air quality guidelines.

Tests in several German cities, including Stuttgart, Hamburg and Frankfurt have revealed pollution levels of between 73 and 78 micrograms of noxious nitrogen dioxide (NOx) – almost twice the EU limit.

NOx and other fine particles have been linked to respiratory conditions and heart problems, leading to thousands of premature deaths each year in Europe.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin