Germany Might Ban Diesels After All

Despite the best efforts of industry groups, it looks like Germany will ban diesel cars. Running for re-election and facing criticism that she’s gone soft on automakers despite air quality issues in major cities, Chancellor Angela Merkel has said that a diesel ban might be necessary after all. Ironically, while government officials had refused to comment on phase-out plans while the Chancellor was on vacation, Merkel just pulled the trigger herself.

Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel, local officials, and representatives from Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW met in Berlin at an emergency “diesel summit” to try and convince a skeptical public that diesel vehicles were still a clean and effective powertrain. Automakers faced an uphill battle against a slew of bad press after the ongoing diesel emissions cheating crisis, but they had a sympathetic ear in the German Chancellor. Merkel seemed unwilling to consider an outright ban like the ones planned in the United Kingdom and France by 2040. Merkel stated that automakers must take concrete steps to restore public trust in German vehicles, but hoped that a software fix could clean up emissions. We get it; 800,000 jobs are tied to the success of the German auto industry, and a diesel ban could impact domestic automakers. Unfortunately, German citizens are more reluctant to breathe polluted air while they work and more confident than their political leaders that automakers can weather a ban.

Now it looks like Merkel decided that re-election was more important than automakers’ bruised profit margins. Under pressure from opposition parties, environmental groups, and city governments desperate to rein in air pollution spewing from old diesel models, Merkel is now considering an outright ban on new diesel cars. This is the first time Merkel has backed down on diesels since Volkswagen was first accused of cheating on emissions tests. Thus far, Merkel is still unwilling to pin down an exact year like Britain and France but now admits that a mandatory ban is a right approach.

Merkel’s political opponents were quick to question her commitment to cracking down on pollution. In turn, Merkel claims that, if re-elected, the automotive crisis will be her first item of business. There are already plans for a second diesel summit after the election in September. Discussions are underway with the German cities most affected by poisonous NOx emissions from dirty diesels on that best approach to implement EV charging networks. Germany might want to take a leaf out of California’s book and charge the company responsible, Volkswagen, to install charging stations and EV infrastructure (at least in part).

For now, German diesel cars will receive additional software updates to lower emissions to the rate that automakers promised customers and the government. Trade-in bonuses, tax breaks, and incentives are in place to encourage drivers to swap older and dirtier diesels for newer and cleaner models. Ultimately, a concerted public effort will be required to solve the burgeoning health crisis in polluted cities. German automakers better brace for a diesel ban and speed up electrification plans whether they like it or not.