Automakers offer to upgrade 5 million polluting diesel cars in Germany

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Automotive News Europe
August 2, 2017 15:37 CET

German automakers have offered to cut emissions by updating the software of 5 million diesel cars in an attempt to avoid vehicle bans.

The companies will install new engine management software to make emissions filtering systems more effective,the VDA industry association said.

Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen Group and and Opel agreed to the overhaul, the VDA said.

The upgrades to Euro 5 and some Euro 6 models will rely on software patches rather than costly component fixes, with the aim of cutting emissions of smog-inducing nitrogen oxides by 25 percent to 30 percent on average, the VDA said in a statement.

The move should reduce pollution at least as much as driving bans proposed in major cities, the VDA said.

The offer came as top executives from the German auto industry met with ministers and state leaders in Berlin on Wednesday amid negative news about diesel pollution, prompting threats of driving bans in German cities to improve urban air quality.

Protests forced a last-minute change of venue for the talks. The summit was moved from the transport department to the more secured interior ministry after Greenpeace and other protesters descended on the transport ministry’s offices. Activists hung a banner across the facade of the transport ministry proclaiming “Welcome to Fort NOX.”

Despite the industry’s software upgrade offer, the talks were still continuing on Wednesday and had broken into several groups, an insider source said.

BMW incentive offer

Separately BMW announced plans on Wednesday to offer owners of older diesel passenger cars designed to meet the Euro 4 or lower emissions standards a bonus of up to 2,000 euros when they trade in their vehicle for a new lower-emissions car.  The new vehicle would have to be either a BMW i3 electric car, a plug-in hybrid or a Euro 6-standard vehicle. The campaign will begin this month and initially run through the end of the year, BMW said in a statement.

Diesel was once the calling card of German auto-engineering prowess, with the industry boasting about the technology offering more power while emitting about a fifth less carbon dioxide than equivalent gasoline engines.

German automakers need diesel as a stop-gap technology to buy time to catch up with the electric offerings of Tesla and Nissan.

Diesel cars are also needed to comply with toughening environmental rules. German carmakers rely on diesel to power their big sedans and a growing fleet of SUVs, as consumers remain reticent to buy asparse lineup of electric cars. The industry’s reliance on diesel has been attributed to a slow pivot to battery-powered vehicles

German politicians heavily backed diesel for decades with tax incentives that make the fuel cheaper at the pump. That all started coming crashing down in September 2015 following Volkswagen’s admission that it duped regulators and consumers for years with diesels rigged to cheat on emissions tests.

With less than two months until a federal election, Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose ruling bloc runs the ministry overseeing automakers, has to ward off criticism that the government is too lenient on car companies. Ministers are wary of angering the drivers of 15 million diesel vehicles and damaging an industry that is the country’s biggest exporter and provides about 800,000 jobs.

The VDA underscored on Wednesday the industry’s commitment to boost electric-car demand by building a fast-charging network along German highways.

German car sales data on Wednesday showed diesel car sales fell 12.7 percent in July. Sales of new diesel cars accounted for 40.5 percent of the market, down from 46 percent at the end of last year.

Reuters and Bloomberg contributed to this report

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