Germany to Cities: Go Nuts With the Diesel Bans, Starting Now

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1975 Mercedes-Benz 240D in California wrecking yard, RH view - ©2017 Murilee Martin - The Truth About Cars

It’s open season on compression ignition vehicles in the Fatherland. The birthplace of the diesel engine now says German cities can implement diesel driving bans whenever, and wherever, they want.

The Friday ruling by the country’s top court comes after a lawsuit against Germany and four other European Union member states by the EU, the result of higher-than-allowed air pollution levels in numerous urban areas.

“Thanks, dad,” the country’s auto industry must be thinking.

While this may seem like a heavy-handed, “Euro Sausage” type approach to the affairs of European nations by the EU, smog-causing nitrogen oxide isn’t a pleasant gas, and diesel vehicles — older ones especially — are the main culprit.

Germany’s top automakers, each a longtime proponent of diesel technology, stand to lose money and customers as the public, fearful of planned or future bans in their own cities, flock to gas- or electric-powered offerings. Hamburg is expected to implement a diesel ban by the end of the month. Other large cities, like Stuttgart, Dusseldorf, and Munich, could soon follow.

The ruling by the country’s administrative court in Leipzig states that cities can ban the use of diesel-powered cars and trucks on certain roadways, or sections of them, immediately. There’s no grace period. One caveat is that vehicles conforming to ultra-stringent Euro 6 emissions standards would still be allowed. This standard came into effect in 2015.

For broader areas of cities, local governments are allowed to implement a phased approach that allows the operation of vehicles meeting Euro 4 emissions standards (in effect from 2005 to 2009).

The ball really got rolling on diesel bans back in February, when Germany’s top court ruled that environmental groups could sue cities that aren’t taking proper action on enforcing European air pollution rules.

Once the court opened the door to driving bans, sales of diesel cars plunged roughly 25 percent in Germany in March (after sinking 19.5 percent in February and 17.6 percent in January). Incentives appeared on some diesel cars.

In the home country of Volkswagen Group, the automaker is currently in the midst of fixing the emissions software on 2.8 million vehicles. Mercedes-Benz and BMW could be forced to offer upgrades for vehicles with non-Euro 6 engines. According to Reuters, research firm Evercore ISI estimates the ruling could cost the country’s auto industry $17.1 billion.

[Image: ©2017 Murilee Martin/The Truth About Cars]