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German Court: Cities Can Ban Diesel Vehicles

March 6, 2018 0 Comments

A German court last week ruled that cities can ban diesel cars and trucks to help fight air pollution.

The Federal Administrative Court ruling worried motorist, auto dealers, and other business about the financial impact of the decision. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government rushed to reassured drivers it would try to prevent such drastic measures by seeking other ways to reduce urban pollution.

Diesel vehicles are popular alternatives to gasoline-powered ones in Germany; there are some 9 million diesel cars and several million trucks, busses, and other vehicles that will be affected by a potential ban.

“It’s a great day for clean air in Germany,” said Juergen Resch, the head of Environmental Action Germany. The group has sued dozens of German cities for failing to meet legal emissions limits.


While diesel cars produce less carbon dioxide and get better mileage than gasoline-powered engines, they emit more nitrogen oxides (NOx) which contributes to respiratory illnesses and 6,000 deaths a year, according to government figures.


Two German states appealed lower court decisions suggesting bans on “particularly dirty diesel cars” would be effective, but the highest administrative court rejected the appeal on Tuesday.

What’s Next?

It’s unclear if cities will move to ban diesel vehicles, and if they do it’s unclear what automakers will need to do. Will they be forced to upgrade exhaust and software systems? Buy back diesel vehicles? Will the government offer incentives to consumers? Or will owners be left on their own, bearing the full brunt of the costs?

The Leipzig-based administrative court said that cities would not be required to compensative drivers for being unable to use their diesel vehicles.

Matthias Wissmann, president of the German Association of the Automotive Industry, spoke on behalf of automakers, saying the government could help ease uncertainty by not leaving the decision to cities, and instead deciding on a case-by-case basis.

“We hope it comes to sensible national regulations,” he said.

Other cities, like Copenhagen and Paris, will watch how the ruling plays out as they make their own decisions regarding the fight against air pollution.

Jeff Schuster, an analyst with LMC Automotive near Detroit, said that diesel bans could spread to other polluted cities in Europe. The market in Europe, China, and other places is already headed that way, however, due to the big push toward EVs and the damage from the Volkswagen diesel-emissions scandal.

Diesel vehicles make up a much smaller part of the auto market in the U.S., Schuster said, and any bans in Europe would have little effect. In the past two years, only 2.7 percent of registered vehicles were diesel, according to Kelley Blue Book.

Both in anticipation of the court ruling and in the wake of the VW emissions scandal, new diesel car sales declined in Germany. Now used-car dealers are worried about the effects of the ruling on the vehicles in their lots.

“The prices as well as the demand are going down rapidly,” said Marcel del Arbol, owner of R&M used car dealership in Frankfurt. “What happened today will bring the prices down even more.”

Analysts think the ruling could prove a boon for the economy if drivers decide to upgrade their engines or buy new, non-diesel models.

Merkel attempted to alleviate worries of widespread diesel bans, suggesting that many of the 70 cities in Germany that regularly exceed pollution limits could “cut harmful emissions with other measures such as software upgrades in vehicles and converting bus and taxi fleets to electric power.”

Experts questioned if such bans can be avoided, and accused the government of ignoring health problems caused by diesel emissions.

Fritz Kuhn, the Green Party mayor of Stuttgart (home to Daimler and Porsche) accused the government of handing the responsibility of cleaning up to cities by failing to provide a nationwide solution.

Other political leaders said that diesel owners shouldn’t have to shoulder the full burden of any potential bans.

“The auto industry that caused the harmful emissions has to upgrade diesel engines at its expense,” said Kai Wegner, lawmaker speaking for Merkel’s party on urban issues.

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