Judges to rule on diesel bans in choking German cities

February 22, 2018 by Claudia Horn With Tom Barfield In Frankfurt
The impact of the German court ruling on old diesel cars in cities is expected to be huge

Judges are to rule Thursday on whether German cities can ban old diesel cars to reduce air pollution, with potentially dramatic consequences for a key industry and transport policy in Europe's largest economy.

Even if it finds in favour of anti-pollution plaintiffs after deliberations start at 1000 GMT, the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig will not order any vehicles off the road.

But it could open the way for cities to do so in zones whose air is particularly contaminated by diesel exhausts.

Since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to installing software to fool regulatory emissions tests in millions of cars worldwide—the so-called "dieselgate" scandal— nitrogen oxide (NOx) and fine particle emissions from diesel motors have been the top priority for German environmentalists.

And the nation's automakers have been eyeing the courts nervously, as bans could affect 9.4 million vehicles not meeting the latest Euro 6 standards.

State governments in Baden-Wuerttemberg capital Stuttgart and North Rhine-Westphalia capital Duesseldorf have appealed the case to the highest court after losing in lower tribunals.

"If we lose, we'll be in deep trouble," Baden-Wuerttemberg state premier Winfried Kretschmann told news agency DPA Tuesday.

Clean air by Christmas?

A court decision for bans would "allow people in German cities to breathe by the end of the year," said Juergen Resch, head of NGO Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), which brought the original case.

Germany and other air quality sinners like France or Italy have for years been in the European Commission's sights for possible legal action over contaminated air.

Fine particle pollution and NOx contribute to as many as 400,000 premature deaths from respiratory and cardiovascular disease per year in the European Union.

Some 70 cities in Germany suffered from average annual nitrogen dioxide levels above EU thresholds last year, with Munich, Stuttgart and Cologne the worst offenders.

To fend off bans and protect the keystone auto industry with its 800,000 jobs, Berlin has offered a cascade of initiatives, including a billion-euro ($1.2 billion) fund—partly paid for by carmakers—for cities to upgrade public transport and buy electric vehicles.

Ministers even suggested to the European Commission they could offer free public transport to cut down on urban car use, although without a detailed plan or budget.

The Leipzig court could on Thursday signal an end to such piecemeal measures by allowing diesel bans in principle.

State leaders insist the federal government would then be on the hook to help them avoid bans if possible or to help enforce them if necessary.

Carmakers slam on brakes

Such nationwide action could include the introduction of a so-called "blue badge" to identify the least polluting vehicles—so far firmly rejected by Berlin.

Meanwhile, DUH chief Resch suggests that "a decision in favour of driving bans would greatly speed up modernisation" of Germany's diesel fleet.

Car companies have resisted hardware refits of older diesels to slash emissions, instead offering updates to engine control software and trade-in programmes for newer, less polluting models.

New catalytic converters "would not be much more effective" and "would take a lot of time" to install, Audi chief executive Rupert Stadler told business daily Handelsblatt Wednesday.

A refit would cost at least 7.6 billion euros, a study by analysts at Evercore bank cited by Handelsblatt found.

Nevertheless, even car diehards the German Automobile Association (ADAC) came out in favour of the measure Tuesday in a study of their own.

Diesel's bad image and the prospect of bans have already pushed sales of the German-invented motors into a deep slump, from 48 percent of new cars sold in 2015 to 39 percent last year.

Such reputational damage has pressured carmakers into stepping up plans to introduce more electric models in coming years.

But after repeated delays from industry and government, Thursday's case "could be the one that changes the country, its mobility and its industry" for good, daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung summed up.

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Steve_S2
not rated yet Feb 22, 2018
All diesel vehicles should go through an annual emissions test.
If they comply with emissions specs, they get a 1 yr "tag" and can remain on the road.
IF they fail.
- If failure caused by manufacturer defect, diesel bypass tech, or related anyway to manufacturer negligence or deception, then the Manufacturer pays the full bill to bring vehicle to spec.
- If failure is due to owner non-maintenance, after market parts or owner defeated systems, the owner must pay for all repairs to bring it to spec to obtain new Tag for the yr.
- If the vehicle is not correctable / repairable, it loses the driving / licence tag and the VIN is flagged as non-compliant, no resale permitted. OR limited to a final 1 yr tag after which is must be sent to recycling, with VIN being flagged as well.
434a
not rated yet Feb 22, 2018
All diesel vehicles should go through an annual emissions test.
.


In Europe most countries already do this, in the UK it's an annual MOT (Ministry of Transport) test which includes emissions. In France there is the Contrôle Technique which again I believe is annual. In Germany its the biannual TUV. I'm sure other members of the EU have their own versions.
The technology involved in defeat devices was not going to be picked up by any test run at a local testing station. You would need a code level analysis to understand what was happening. Class action suits are currently being prepared against VW for their emissions defeat devices, the courts will determine liability and compensation and if there is a criminal case to answer.
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Feb 22, 2018
All diesel vehicles should go through an annual emissions test.

They do in germany (OK, it's bi-annual).
If they comply with emissions specs, they get a 1 yr "tag" and can remain on the road.

They get exactly that.

The problem was that motor software was designed to detect when the car was being tested and would artificially put the motor into a program that produced less emissions.

If failure caused by manufacturer defect, diesel bypass tech, or related anyway to manufacturer negligence or deception, then the Manufacturer pays the full bill to bring vehicle to spec.

They are trying that. this is not easy because the seal of approval for a car is given by the the ministry of transport upon first presenting this a car type - and that approval was granted. So these cars are on the road legally - which means you can't tell the manufacturer that they should pay (which I find totally crazy, BTW, because the approval was achieved using the fudged software)
antialias_physorg
not rated yet Feb 22, 2018
If failure is due to owner non-maintenance, after market parts or owner defeated systems, the owner must pay for all repairs to bring it to spec to obtain new Tag for the yr.

This is already the case. If your car fails the emissions test it may no longer drive on the road until you have rectified the situation and represented it to inspection.

If the vehicle is not correctable / repairable, it loses the driving / licence tag and the VIN is flagged as non-compliant, no resale permitted.

This is already the case. (You could, theoretically, resell it. If the buyer brings it up to spec and passes the emissions test he can reapply for a permit)

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