The German Transport Ministry (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt, or KBA) has instructed Mercedes-Benz to recall 774,000 diesel-engined vehicles across Europe to have illegal, emissions-cheating software replaced. For the most part, those cars will include the C-Class range, the GLC crossover, and the Vito and V-Class vans, although other models will also be caught up. The recall apparently includes vehicles right up to those conforming to current Euro6 emissions regulations.
"The government will order 238,000 Daimler vehicles to be immediately recalled Germany-wide because of unauthorised defeat devices," said a KBA statement. That 280,000 figure represents those cars sold in Germany itself or for which German authorities issues road-worthiness certs, which are the only vehicles over which the KBA has jurisdiction. Other nations will have to issue their own, specific, recall notices for the rest of the cars. Mercedes Ireland confirmed to The Irish Times that the issue was being worked on, but it did not at the time of writing have a specific figure for the number of cars that would need to be recalled.
Earlier this year, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag, claimed that the Mercedes software code switches off the injection of AdBlue, the urea-based fluid that chemically binds with, and eliminates, harmful nitrogen-oxides (NOx) gas in the diesel exhaust. NOx has been at the centre of the diesel emissions scandal ever since it was found that Volkswagen has employed a 'cheat device' to get around emissions checks. It is thought to be a major contributor to thousands of cases of respiratory, disease worldwide.
At the time, a Mercedes spokesperson, Joerg Howe, responded by saying that the internal documents cited by Bild Am Sonntag had "selectively been released in order to harm Daimler and its 290,000 employees." He went on to say that the company had been under investigation for two years now for possible diesel emissions cheating, but that nothing official had yet been said against the company.
Mercedes has sunk more than €2 billion has been into the development of a new 2.0-litre diesel engine family which made its debut in the 2016 E-Class saloon. European rules allow for the excuse of a ‘thermal window’ which permits emissions control systems to be shut down under certain circumstances to prevent excessive engine wear, so it is possible that even if the software does switch off the AdBlue spray, it may not strictly contravene European regs.
Mercedes' long-serving chief executive officer, Dieter Zetsche, has previously said that he thinks diesel power is worth continuing to invest in, and that it will be criticial in reducing overall Co2 emissions from cars. He has been quoted as saying that there is "no reason to forego the advantages" of diesel power. In response to the current recall, Zetsche said that because the firm had already brought forward a technical solution, that it would likely avoid any fines or penalties. Speaking to Reuters Evercore ISI analyst Arndt Ellinghorst predicted the costs for the required software update for Mercedes would be less than €100-million. "We don't see any evidence that Daimler was designing software to deliberately cheat on emission testing," he said. "Overall, this outcome should de-risk the stock."
Rival company Audi has also saw a diesel-based shock this week, with the announcement by the Munich prosecutor's office that its chief executive, Rupert Stadler, is a named suspect in a case which seeks to accuse Audi of fraud and false advertising. "Since May 30, 2018 the chairman of the board of Audi AG Prof. Rupert Stadler as well as a further member of the management board are now named suspects," the Munich prosecutor's office said. Stadler was recently promoted to head of sales for the whole VW Group, in addition to his duties at Audi. Just last month, Audi admitted that an extra 60,000 of its cars would have to be recalled for emissions software changes.
Campaigners are saying that car makers must step up to the mark with their engines, though. Greg Archer, clean vehicles director at environmental think tank Transport & Environment told the Irish Times: "The industry must stop exploiting loopholes and implement regulations properly in the knowledge that irregularities in approach will be found, exposed and punished. Companies should compete on the quality of their engineers, not lawyers. More than ever before we need a stronger Europe with decisive MEPs and Commissioners willing to rein in an industry that is tarnishing the reputation of both Germany and Europe."