Germany Agrees to Plan to Cut Diesel Pollution

A Diesel car runs in Essen, Germany. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

By DAVID RISING

BERLIN (AP) — The German government backed plans Tuesday to help reduce pollution from diesel vehicles while easing the burden on consumers worried about costly upgrades.

Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer and Environment Minister Svenja Schulze told reporters the concept is to keep modern, less polluting diesel vehicles on the road while upgrading or retiring older models to prevent dangerous levels of nitrogen oxides in Germany’s large cities.

“Our goal is to avoid a driving ban and ensure the air quality of our cities,” Schulze said.

The issue is a political hot potato in a country in love with its cars and where diesels are favored by commuters and small businesses for their generally better efficiency and lower fuel costs.

At the same time, the government doesn’t want to damage the country’s automobile industry — including manufacturers Volkswagen, Mercedes and BMW — by saddling it with too many upgrade costs.

Its hand has been forced after several cities began instituting piecemeal bans on older diesels to comply with European Union clean air rules on levels of nitrogen oxides, following lawsuits from environmental groups.

Scheuer said there had been an urgent need to provide a clear path forward for owners of diesel vehicles wondering what to do.

He and other members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government met until the early morning hours to come up with the new measures.

Among other things, the plan calls for auto manufacturers to offer generous trade-in offers for older model diesels against new cars, or cleaner used vehicles.

When possible with newer diesel vehicles, consumers should have the option to upgrade the mechanical systems if there is an appropriate retrofit available, Scheuer said.

He said Germany’s major automakers were on board with the trade-in idea, and were still discussing whether upgrades would be technically possible and cost effective for their vehicles.

“Today is a huge step forward but we still have work to do,” he said.

Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, an expert with Germany’s CAR automotive research center at the University of Duisburg-Essen, was skeptical about the plan, noting that a 2017 offer of high trade-in prices on older diesels failed to generate the results hoped for.

“Overall, we see the results of trade-in offers as limited,” he said.

There also remains the lingering question of how foreign carmakers could be forced into compliance, but Schulze said she was convinced they would follow the lead of the domestic companies.

“This will have a domino effect on the foreign auto manufacturers,” she said.

French automaker Renault already announced on its website that it would be offering up to 10,000 euros ($11,500) for German owners of its older diesel vehicles to trade them in for a new car.

The issue with older diesel cars is not a German one alone, with several cities across Europe also having announced they are considering bans.

On Tuesday, Denmark’s center-right government announced it wanted to completely end the sale of vehicles operating on only gas or diesel to help reduce pollution as of 2030.

Danish Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen told parliament his three-party government would push for more electric and hybrid vehicles to reduce greenhouse gases.

“The future is green, and it is very close to us,” he said.

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Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this story.

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