Can Automakers Convince Germany to Skip the Pending Diesel Bans?

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky
can automakers convince germany to skip the pending diesel bans

Europe’s love affair with diesel engines is fading faster than a VHS tape left sitting beneath the summer sun in a car’s rear window. Encouraged by automakers, European governments incentivized diesel cars in the 1990s by taxing them at a far lower rate and suppressing the price of the fuel they burned. Studies came out claiming that diesel’s below-average CO2 emissions could even help with air quality. By 2012, diesel models made up 55 percent of Europe’s passenger vehicle market.

Things certainly have changed. Now concerned primarily with smog-producing NOx output, health and safety advocates have called diesel a menace to society. The EU has been pressing automakers to abandon the fuel by adopting much more restrictive emissions regulations for passenger cars. Volkswagen’s emission scandal further complicated things, prompting cities to call for a total ban on certain vehicles.

However, Germany still has to decide whether the mandates are even legal — and the decision comes this Thursday.

Vehicle prohibitions are nothing new. Trucks are prohibited from using certain roadways in practically every country. But banning passenger vehicles based on the type of fuel burned is far from commonplace. It could also financially cripple automakers that are heavily dependent on diesel powertrains and devalue millions of existing vehicles that consumers spent their hard-earned money on.

According to Reuters, there are currently around 15 million diesel vehicles on German streets. Environmental groups claim particulate levels exceed the EU threshold in at least 90 German towns and cities because of them.

As a result, local governments have issued orders to prohibit any diesel car which does not conform to the latest standards from entering city centers on pollution-heavy days. This has scared the crap out of European automakers, forcing them to greenify their images and persuade the state to reconsider. The move has left Germany’s federal administrative court to rule on whether such bans can legally be imposed at the local level.

“The key question is whether bans can already be considered to be legal instruments,” explained Remo Klinger, a lawyer for the consumer protection association Deutsche Umwelthilfe colloquially known as DUH. “It’s a completely open question of law.” Hoping to light a fire under the bottoms of lawmakers, DUH sued Stuttgart and Duesseldorf over excess pollution levels after VW’s emission scandal was made public in 2015.

Data from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association shows that diesels still made up roughly 49.9 percent of the market by the end of 2016. While that represents a substantial decline in just a few years, it also proves there are still a lot of people who decided to purchase a diesel-driven auto that might end up being worthless on the resale market if the ban passes.

Germany isn’t the only nation facing this issue, either. Numerous countries and states are attempting to impose bans on all cars burning fossil fuels by 2040, while Paris, Madrid, Athens, and Mexico City all want to prohibit diesel vehicles from entering by 2025. Copenhagen wants a ban by next year and other smaller municipalities (including some in Germany) have followed suit. Even China and India are considering national bans in the years to come.

Analysts at Bernstein Research suggest diesel bans in Europe would impact Peugeot the hardest, followed by Renault. For the German carmakers, Daimler’s global fleet exposure to diesel is around 38 percent, BMW’s 35 percent, and VW’s 26 percent.

Thursday’s decision likely won’t be the last we hear of the issue. In fact, if the court chooses to uphold the local bans, it would set a precedent for other countries to do the same. However, with Mercedes on the cusp of a potential scandal and diesel getting so much bad publicity of late, it’s hard to imagine the court decision making much of a difference to consumers.

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  • SSJeep SSJeep on Feb 20, 2018

    Most of the diesel emissions problems come from medium and large commercial trucks, public transit and construction equipment. One semi with a faulty (or old) diesel exhaust system can pollute more than 500 diesel passenger cars. One diesel powered locomotive can pollute more than 1000 diesel passenger cars. Enforce diesel emissions standards on commercial equipment and allow police to ticket heavy equipment that has visible diesel emissions (and make it hurt, 1000 euro plus an emissions test). Convert public transit to electrical and eliminate diesel locomotives and buses. Do these and the problem will likely solve itself.

  • DenverMike DenverMike on Feb 20, 2018

    Diesel public-transit, commercial, etc, I'm sure are on the short list. Diesel passenger cars likely out number every one of those 500 to 1,000:1 anyway. Converting the dirty diesel big-stuff to CNG or other, (or just full US diesel emissions) will take a longer bit of time, but diesel passenger cars have to be the first to go.

  • SCE to AUX Good summary, Matt.I like EVs, but not bans, subsidies, or carbon credits. Let them find their own level.PM Sunak has done a good thing, but I'm surprised at how sensibly early he made the call. Hopefully they'll ban the ban altogether.
  • SCE to AUX "Having spoken to plenty of suppliers over the years, many have told me they tried to adapt to EV production only to be confronted with inconsistent orders."Lofty sales predictions followed by reality.I once worked (very briefly) for a key supplier to Segway, back when "Ginger" was going to change the world. Many suppliers like us tooled up to support sales in the millions, only to sell thousands - and then went bankrupt.
  • SCE to AUX "all-electric vehicles, resulting in a scenario where automakers need fewer traditional suppliers"Is that really true? Fewer traditional suppliers, but they'll be replaced with other suppliers. You won't have the myriad of parts for an internal combustion engine and its accessories (exhaust, sensors), but you still have gear reducers (sometimes two or three), electric motors with lots of internal components, motor mounts, cooling systems, and switchgear.Battery packs aren't so simple, either, and the fire recalls show that quality control is paramount.The rest of the vehicle is pretty much the same - suspension, brakes, body, etc.
  • Theflyersfan As crazy as the NE/Mid-Atlantic I-95 corridor drivers can be, for the most part they pay attention and there aren't too many stupid games. I think at times it's just too crowded for that stuff. I've lived all over the US and the worst drivers are in parts of the Midwest. As I've mentioned before, Ohio drivers have ZERO lane discipline when it comes to cruising, merging, and exiting. And I've just seen it in this area (Louisville) where many drivers have literally no idea how to merge. I've never seen an area where drivers have no problems merging onto an interstate at 30 mph right in front of you. There are some gruesome wrecks at these merge points because it looks like drivers are just too timid to merge and speed up correctly. And the weaving and merging at cloverleaf exits (which in this day and age need to all go away) borders on comical in that no one has a bloody clue of let car merge in, you merge right to exit, and then someone repeats behind you. That way traffic moves. Not a chance here.And for all of the ragging LA drivers get, I found them just fine. It's actually kind of funny watching them rearrange themselves like after a NASCAR caution flag once traffic eases up and they line up, speed up to 80 mph for a few miles, only to come to a dead halt again. I think they are just so used to the mess of freeways and drivers that it's kind of a "we'll get there when we get there..." kind of attitude.
  • Analoggrotto I refuse to comment until Tassos comments.