German Court Says Towns Can Officially Ban Diesel Vehicles Whenever They Want

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

Thanks to years of governmental promotion, Europe is still awash with diesel-powered passenger vehicles. However, in the wake of emission scandals and research suggesting diesel fumes might not be all that great to inhale, the region has changed its mind. It has gotten to a point where entire countries are now aiming to ban all internal combustion engines as local municipalities try to put the kibosh on diesels as soon as possible.

In Germany, birthplace of the diesel engine, this led to many asking if towns even had the right to regulate what people drove. According to a recent ruling from the nation’s highest administrative court, they absolutely do. With a precedent now set in Europe’s auto manufacturing hub, citywide diesel bans are likely to catch on — not only in Germany, but across the continent. Our condolences if you’re living east of the Atlantic and wanted to sell your diesel secondhand.

The decision also strikes a pretty serious blow to German carmakers still leaning on new diesel sales. However, the general populace, at least those living in cities instituting bans, seem pleased with the court’s choice to legitimize them. That goes double for environmentalist groups.

“This decision opens the door to clean air,” Tim Butler, head of air quality research for the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies in Potsdam, told The Washington Post. “There’s going to be a huge problem in figuring out how to implement and enforce these bans. But ultimately, it’s the most effective way of cleaning the air, so it has to be done.”

At present, Butler estimates diesel’s longstanding popularity has helped advance NOx pollution well about the legal limits imposed by European Union in roughly 70 German towns.

Not everyone is thrilled with the measure, though. Diesel owners along with oodles of members of Germany’s business and political establishment are seriously annoyed with the decision. Many claim the measure is tantamount to expropriation, while others accuse the government of hypocrisy after incentivizing diesel cars for so many years.

Despite fighting climate change within Germany for the majority of her tenure, Chancellor Angela Merkel openly opposes diesel bans. Her party, closely linked with the country’s automotive industry, has suggested citywide bans could be detrimental to the industry and difficult to implement.

Likewise, Allgemeiner Deutscher Automobil-Club (ADAC) backs the automakers by suggesting hardware fixes and a gradual shift away from diesel engines. “In our view, the federal government must offer incentives and support to implement alternative measures,” the auto club said in a statement.

However, the pressure to ban the vehicles may be too great to postpone. Environmental Action Germany is suing authorities in Stuttgart and Düsseldorf — hoping to convince them to impose auto bans to stay within E.U. pollution limits. Following the court’s decision on Tuesday, those bans can now go forward.

“The flooding of cities with poisonous diesel exhausts is over,” Jürgen Resch, head of Environmental Action Germany, said after the ruling. “These cars don’t belong in our cities anymore.”

It’s more than a little scary to imagine a world where someone can suddenly outlaw what you drive but no municipality has crafted a plan on how to enforce the bans as of yet. With around 15 million diesel vehicles still active within Germany, coming up with an effective solution is going to be very tricky.

[Image: Daimler AG]

Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • ThomasSchiffer ThomasSchiffer on Mar 01, 2018

    The Volkswagen diesel scandal has strengthened the position of the Green Party and the Deutsche Umwelthilfe, the latter being a nobody that is sponsored by Toyota among others. Toyota has no interest in diesel technology and many here view this sponsorship as a means of eradicating their European competition and selling their hybrids, hydrogen and upcoming electric cars. And don‘t be fooled. These same people who pressed for a diesel ban are also passionate about banning gasoline-powered cars. Before you praise their decision, remember that these people would enjoy seeing your oversized, overpowered and fuel inefficient (polluting) pickup or SUV banned. In fact owners of older gasoline cars which have not reached a historic status are their next target. My 1995 Renault Twingo could be their next target. If that happens then I have no car to use for urban duty.

    • DenverMike DenverMike on Mar 01, 2018

      It very well could be a conspiracy co-sponsored by Toyota, but maybe this all could be pushed by folks looking to not get cancer, emphysema, blood disease, etc or just not gag, eyes watering from diesel exhaust everyday or when they're forced to go to the city and can think of better ways to get poisoned to death. But your theory is good too!

  • Sub-600 Sub-600 on Mar 01, 2018

    Climate believers are useful idiots to overreaching governments who use them push their agendas. The more time that passes the sillier Al Gore’s infomercial becomes, yet climate believers cite it as “settled science”. The MSM is complicit in the con, but it’s the laziness of the citizenry that allows it. The only thing a successful scam requires is willing victims. People are hesitant to stand up to a group of parrots who spew liberal talking points, why, I’ll never know. It takes only facts to disarm them. I can turn on the news tonight and I’ll be informed that a piece of the ice shelf the size of Connecticut (it’s always Connecticut with these people) has calved. This has occurred thousands of times that I can remember since the early ‘70s. The Amazon rainforest loses a million acres a day, this has been ongoing, again, since the ‘70s. It never ends.

    • 30-mile fetch 30-mile fetch on Mar 01, 2018

      You and the anti-vaxxers should really be thanking Al Gore for providing you an internet platform, because without it you'd have to work a lot harder to get your dim, gentle light out from under the bushel.

  • Grg I am not sure that this would hold up in snow country. It used to be that people in snow country would not be caught dead in a white car. Now that white cars have become popular in the north, I can't tell you how many times I have seen white cars driving in the snow without lights. Almost all cars are less visible in a snow storm, or for that matter, rain storm, without lights. White ones become nearly invisible.
  • Douglas I have a 2018 BMW 740e PHEV, and love it. It has a modest electric only range compared to newer PHEV's (about 18 miles), but that gets me to the office and back each day. It has a small gas tank to make room for the battery, so only holds about 11 gallons. I easily go 600 or more miles per tank. I love it, and being able to take long road trips without having to plug in (it just operates like a regular Hybrid if you never plug it in). It charges in 75 minutes in my garage from a Level 2 charger I bought on Amazon for $350. Had an electrician add a dryer outlet beside the breaker box. It's the best of both worlds and I would definitely want a PHEV for my next car. 104,000 miles and ZERO problems with the powertrain components (so far).
  • Panther Platform I had a 98 Lincoln Mark VIII so I have a soft spot for this. The Mark VIII styling was not appreciated by all.
  • Grant P Farrell Oh no the dealership kept the car for hours on two occasions before giving me a loaner for two months while they supposedly replaced the ECU. I hate cords so I've only connected it wirelessly. Next I'm gonna try using the usb-c in the center console and leaving the phone plugged in in there, not as convenient but it might lower my blood pressure.
  • Jeff Tiny electrical parts are ruining today's cars! What can they ...