German politician laments 'crusades' against diesel cars

Conservative leader accuses environmental organisations of threatening hundreds of thousands of jobs

14 January 2019 - 11:56 By Reuters and Motoring Staff
Cars pass a traffic sign banning diesel cars on a street in downtown Hamburg, Germany. Picture: SUPPLIED
Cars pass a traffic sign banning diesel cars on a street in downtown Hamburg, Germany. Picture: SUPPLIED

German conservative leader Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer on Monday accused environmental organisations of mounting "crusades" against diesel vehicles and said that driving bans threaten hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Referring to the non-government environmental organisation DUH, which has launched legal battles to ban the most polluting diesel cars from cities, she said: "DUH is doing a good job, but there is a growing impression that crusades are being led against diesel."

Kramp-Karrenbauer, who in December won the race to succeed Angela Merkel as chairwoman of the Christian Democrats (CDU), told n-tv broadcaster: "That hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on the (automotive) industry is an aspect that is often lost."

The government last month cleared away legal hurdles for carmakers to upgrade exhaust emissions filtering systems on older diesel cars as a way to avoid vehicle bans. Germany's transport ministry set out guidelines for getting regulatory approval to install upgraded exhaust filtering systems on older cars.

Carmakers have been forced to consider upgrading exhaust treatment systems on older cars after German cities started banning heavily polluting diesel vehicles to cut pollution from fine particulate matter and toxic nitrogen oxides.

To improve air quality, courts have banned older diesel cars from several German cities or parts of them, including Hamburg, Stuttgart and Frankfurt.

German carmakers have already agreed to spend up to 3,000 euros (R48,000) per vehicle to upgrade engine management software to make exhaust filtering systems more effective, but environmentalists say these measures are insufficient. Carmakers are divided over who will pay the retrofit costs, given that most older diesel cars met clean air rules at the time when they were sold.

The fight over refits is the latest fallout from an emissions cheating scandal triggered by Volkswagen in 2015 after it admitted hiding illegal pollution levels from regulators, which has cost it about $30 billion in fines.

The threat of diesel driving bans in Germany has caused the market share of diesel vehicles to plummet from over 45 percent of new cars in 2016, to around 30 percent last year.

German politicians have been criticised for being too slow to react to the diesel scandal, which threatens the future of an industry that accounts for about 800,000 jobs.