By on February 19, 2018

public domain

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.

Get the latest TTAC e-Newsletter!

17 Comments on “Can Automakers Convince Germany to Skip the Pending Diesel Bans?...”

  • avatar

    The health and safety of EU citizens has to come first. EU automakers gambled on diesels and lost. Even 20 years ago, the disastrous negative heath effects of diesels has been well known, so automakers had to know eventually this would blow up in their face. It’s real hard to feel sorry for them at this point, especially VW and company.

    • 0 avatar

      But have some compassion for those who bought the diesels that will now be worth scrap value. Instead if you have to, mandate the tougher standards for new cars going forward and allow existing diesels to remain for what would be a reasonable lifetime. With no resale value, any high cost repair will kill it. The life will certainly be shorter than pure mechanical wear-out.

    • 0 avatar

      If the EU (or other governments for that matter) cared about our health they would do more than just focus on the diesel cars.

      How did all those people in the past survive diesel and gasoline exhaust when cars were dirtier and had no pollution control systems? How did they survive and live relatively long lives? At the moment diesel is a popular scapegoat for health issues. Part of why people are so sick these days is also due to less physical activity, a poor diet and bad habits such as smoking. I would argue that these factors combined can and should be blamed for the poor state of health of modern man; not exclusively automotive exhaust.

      It would be foolish for the diesel bans to be enacted. Pretty much all businesses from plumbers to electricians and handymen use diesel-powered commercial and fleet vehicles. The taxis are almost exclusively diesels as are the police cars. The trucks which supply the cities are obviously all diesel-powered. If a ban were to be enacted then the system would collapse. Literally, that is. Well, if these hypocritical politicians want to ban diesels then there is enough anger in the affected population to strike and teach these politicians a lesson.

      • 0 avatar

        Why would the evil politicians risk doing something that many claim is so unpopular and dumb? Is it because the populace sees the wisdom of this change and have approved a government that will follow through?

      • 0 avatar

        Either way, any economic fallout has to take a backseat to fixing the health fallout directly related to diesels, so many darn diesels.

        EU governments can’t continue ignoring what’s obvious, and really have no choice but to take immediate and drastic action, as painful as it may be for some, financially.

        • 0 avatar

          NYC made a big step by using hybrid buses that run on CNG. Yes such a setup only works for fleets but the days of being behind a City bus that accelerates with a cloud of obnoxious diesel fumes are now over. Thank you, Mike Bloomberg

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    I doubt the legality of local bans is truly relevant. The public will begin avoiding diesels for fear they’ll be banned anyway.

    In the US, the Corvair became a pariah despite the resolution of its suspension issues. Consumers really do have the final say.

  • avatar

    After this weekend’s Mercedes news? No one is going to defend diesel anymore. Dead fuel walking in any non-commercial application.

    • 0 avatar

      There’ll continue to be light-diesel application, just not in light-passenger sedans and minivans.

      My guess is that tiny diesels will continue in non-commercial Jeep Grand Cherokee-class vehicles and heavier, as well as in standard commercial class vehicles like delivery vans and such.

      I’m glad to see the world has come to its senses and recognizes that there just is no substitute for good ole gasoline.

      All other fuels are great, but for mass use, gasoline just can’t be beat.

      People, the market, should decide which is the viable fuel. Clearly, diesel has its uses but it is not for everyone.

      Neither are EVs.

  • avatar

    Me thinks diesel doesn’t have bright future.

  • avatar

    If you are concerned about C02 levels and warming the planet then the greater efficiencies of diesel cannot be ignored. It’s simple physics. The anit-diesel brigade have no factual basis. You can’t have everything. You can have low C02 and higher NOx, or low NOx and higher CO2. Pick your poison.

    The NOx emissions of diesels may be higher than petrol cars, but in overall terms they are still low. Ask a 2015 Golf TDI owner how much his car is worth – the remaining ones walked off the lots due to huge demand.

    • 0 avatar

      > If you are concerned about C02 levels and warming the planet then the greater efficiencies of diesel cannot be ignored.

      For passenger vehicles hybrids like the Toyota Prius and Chevy Volt both show this is not the case, and that’s without getting into pure-electrics like the Bolt or Model S. Even if you only count pure-gasoline engines for some reason then Mazda’s upcoming Skyactiv-X SPCCI engine is being touted to provide a 20% efficiency boost with NOx emissions no higher than a traditional gasoline engine. (Check out Engineering Explained’s video on this engine on YouTube (around time code 4:55) for a citation on the expected NOx emissions of this type of engine.)

    • 0 avatar

      The new variable displacement engine used by Nissan, direct injection, etc shows that gasoline is making gains on the diesel’s efficiency title. The ICE engine is not dead, not by a long shot.

    • 0 avatar

      You can’t hate on diesels if you’re any kind of enthusiast, cars, trucks, tractors, trains, etc. But you had to know it was gonna get ugly when it came time to clean up diesel exhaust. And it had to happen, no way around it.

      So now it’s time to clean up cities with a high concentration of diesel cars. To do this effectively and in a timely manner? Yeah hold on to your hat.

    • 0 avatar
      George B

      loopy55, the choice is relatively easy. You prioritize limiting real NOx pollution independent of the fuel used to limit photo-chemical smog. You neither promote or ban diesel engines, but you set pollution limits deal effectively with a real localized pollution problem. In contrast, carbon dioxide is non-toxic at plausible atmospheric concentrations and there’s very little correlation between local vehicle carbon dioxide production and overall atmospheric concentration. Localized regulations are much more effective at dealing with smog.

  • avatar

    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.

  • avatar

    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.

Read all comments

Recent Comments

  • SCE to AUX: BBB should be killed with fire.
  • Tim Healey: Thing is, the GT350 is no longer for sale. So this car effectively replaces the Bullitt, adds a bit more...
  • Lichtronamo: Driven that road several times. Last trip to PHX we drove from MSP in my GTI. Hit the road at a time...
  • FreedMike: I agree on the graphics – the Mustang’s basic shape is just lovely, and it’s a shame to...
  • Tim Healey: You can build the car with less ostentatious graphics — what’s shown here is mostly optional.

New Car Research

Get a Free Dealer Quote

Who We Are

  • Adam Tonge
  • Bozi Tatarevic
  • Corey Lewis
  • Jo Borras
  • Mark Baruth
  • Ronnie Schreiber