Angela Merkel Administration Downplaying Possibility Of Diesel Car Bans In Germany — What’s The Likelihood That New Loopholes Arise?

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With news of the ruling on Tuesday by a court in Germany that individual cities have the right to ban diesel cars still reverberating throughout the media, the administration of Angela Merkel has reportedly been making the rounds assuring those in the country that widespread bans of diesel cars were unlikely.

diesel exhaust studyTo hear the reporters at Reuters tell it, the government of Germany is now scrambling to “find ways to avoid bans on heavily polluting diesel vehicles in major cities, seeking to reassure drivers and carmakers” following the earlier court ruling.

That coverage also stated that the ruling had “embarrassed Angela Merkel’s government, criticized for having cosy ties with the auto industry which employs some 800,000 people, and raises pressure on manufacturers to make costly modifications to vehicles.”

Is that a fair account of the situation? Or is the wording just a matter of media sensationalism? Considering that the Merkel administration is reportedly now working to ensure that diesel car bans don’t become common, I’m inclined to say that it’s a fair accounting.

While it’s certainly true that diesel car owners in Germany would be hurt by such bans in some ways (diminished resale values), it’s also true that the general public in Germany would benefit (improved air quality). That being the case, why is the Merkel government seemingly on the side of the auto industry and diesel car pushers? Auto industry ties? Worries about political damage (it was the government that pushed diesel cars as being “green” to begin with after all)?

Shouldn’t the general well-being of the German public matter more than the auto industry? Or is it always a matter of “jobs first, screw the environment” everywhere, not just in the US?

“This is a complicated topic. There are different situations in different cities,” equivocates government spokesperson Steffen Seibert. Should we believe him?

NOx levels have already begun to fall in recent years, and thus there’s no need for bans, Seibert continues. Is that actually true?

Why don’t we just implement a national “blue badge” system to make sure that everyone knows how “clean” a car is, that will solve the problems, Seibert concludes. What?

Why all of the stalling and obfuscation?

Reuters provides more:

“Bans could also herald the end of the combustion engine, which Germans pride themselves on having invented…Overall, some 70 cities, including Hamburg and Stuttgart, have been found to have excess levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx).

“While slowly moving toward electric cars and committing to software changes, critics accuse the government of skirting bigger steps such as phasing out diesel. France and Britain will ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Rome, one of Europe’s most traffic-clogged cities, plans to ban diesel cars from its center by 2024, its mayor said, and a number of other European cities are considering curbs.

“Carmakers in Germany are also trying to avoid expensive hardware modifications to exhaust systems…Differences were evident on Wednesday when a spokesman for the transport ministry, run by conservatives, said hardware modifications to diesel cars could be very expensive and must bear some relation to the value of the vehicle.”

It’s notable though that the SPD — which would again make up part of a “grand coalition” if everything goes according to Merkel’s plans — is publicly opposing further excuse-making for the auto manufacturers, to a degree.

There’s a possibility that a new government could be formed as soon as Monday, so it will be interesting to see what happens on that front — e.g. Will the SPD force the Merkel to stop providing so much cover for the auto manufacturers?

A much more interesting question, though — and certainly a question with far broader implications — is the question of how much longer market interest in diesel cars will persist.

The writing is pretty much on the wall at this point that diesel cars will be banned from many urban environments in Europe within a decade or so, and that in the places where outright bans aren’t in place there are still likely to be various charges and restrictions meant to discourage their use. That being the case, how much longer until their sales plummet completely? 5 years? 10 years?

Will sales more or less cease in some markets (Norway, the UK) while still persisting to a degree in others (Germany, Austria)? Will the German auto manufacturers continue selling diesel cars, just not in Europe? Will they shift market focus to other regions in order to maintain their diesel vehicle businesses?

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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