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German car-makers to update 5.3m diesel vehicles

Diesel defendants: Volkswagen CEO Matthias Mueller, BMW management board chairman Harald Krueger and his Daimler counterpart Dieter Zetsche at the national diesel forum in Berlin this week.

Software tweak to diesel cars in Germany avoids deeper fixes, driving bans – for now

4 Aug 2017

GERMAN auto manufacturers including BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Opel will update software in 5.3 million diesel-powered vehicles in a bid to cut emissions and quell the rising opposition against oil-burning engines in its home market that could lead to more substantial upgrades and broader measures such as driving bans on diesel cars in cities.

The commitment, which was made through the German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA), came after the top executives of the car-makers met with government ministers and regional leaders at a “national diesel forum” in Berlin this week.

Facing an election next month, the German government has copped criticism for being soft on its car industry – a sector that provides about 800,000 jobs and is the country’s single biggest exporter – particularly in the wake of the Volkswagen diesel emissions crisis that emerged in 2015.

The software upgrades announced this week will apply to Euro 5 and Euro 6 diesel engines that the industry believes should, on average, curb nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions by 25 to 30 per cent.

The VDA said the move should reduce NOx emissions by at least as much as proposed bans on driving diesel cars in major cities, while German transport minister Alexander Dobrindt and environment minister Barbara Hendricks secured a commitment from the car-makers to implement incentives for consumers to trade in diesel cars aged 10 years or more for newer, and therefore cleaner, models.

This is not unlike the scrappage schemes introduced in various countries during the global financial crisis, in an effort to stimulate sales.

BMW Group has already gone a step further, announcing after the meeting that it would offer an EU-wide “environment bonus” of up to €2000 ($A2989) for owners of Euro 4 (or earlier) diesel vehicles to trade in their car and purchase a BMW i3, a plug-in hybrid or a Euro 6-standard vehicle with CO2 emissions of up to 130 grams per kilometres.

The incentive applies to new BMW or Mini cars and will initially run until the end of the year.

In announcing the measure, BMW AG management board chairman Harald Krueger reaffirmed the company’s commitment to rolling out all-new electrified models but staunchly defended the role of diesel engines in its future.

He also called for “objective discussions based on facts and scientific evidence” and rejected allegations that the company had ever used “non-compliant technology” in diesel exhaust-treatment systems along the same lines as the Volkswagen Group was found to have employed.

“Investigations by authorities at home and abroad confirm that vehicles by the BMW Group are not rigged for testing purposes,” he said.

On the subject of diesel, Mr Krueger said: For almost two years now, diesel technology which is cutting-edge, highly efficient and popular with customers has been deliberately and publicly discredited.

“This has caused tremendous uncertainty among millions of drivers and it’s not going to get us anywhere.

“The German automotive industry will remain strong in innovation: we will provide tomorrow’s mobility solutions.”

He also said: “Future mobility will definitely depend on state-of-the-art diesels as well because environmental protection has several dimensions: one of them is the fight against climate change.”

Daimler AG chairman Dieter Zetsche said in a statement after the meeting: “Our goal is to improve diesel rather than ban it. As long as e-cars still have a small market share, optimising diesel is the most effective lever to reach climate targets in road transport.”

As well as funding the software changes, the German car-makers are investing in the government’s “Sustainable Urban Mobility Fund” that aims to help major cities better handle rising traffic volumes, while some €250 million of German taxpayer dollars ($A374m) has been earmarked for updating public transport fleets.

The scrutiny on car manufacturers in Germany comes as the UK and France announced separately last month that they will ban sales of new petrol- and diesel-powered cars from 2040.

As GoAuto has reported, Norway has also instituted a clampdown on cars powered by internal combustion engines, culminating in a full ban by 2025.

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