German cities can ban diesel cars, top court rules

Environmental groups have welcomed a decision by a German court which rules that cities can ban the most heavily polluting diesel cars from their streets.

Decision a blow to car industry, hits value of millions of vehicles

LEIPZIG (Germany) • A top German court yesterday ruled in favour of allowing major cities to ban the most heavily polluting diesel cars, a move set to hit the value of 12 million vehicles in Europe's largest car market and probably force carmakers to pay for costly modifications.

There has been a global backlash against diesel-engine cars since Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating in exhaust tests meant to limit emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide (NOx), known to cause respiratory disease.

While other countries are also considering restrictions on diesel cars, a ban in the birthplace of the modern automobile is a new blow for the car industry, and an embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel's government.

The government, which has come under fire for its close ties to the car industry, had lobbied against a ban, fearing it could anger millions of drivers and disrupt traffic.

The ruling by the country's highest federal administrative court came after the states of Baden-Wurttemberg and North Rhine-Westphalia appealed against bans imposed by local courts in Stuttgart and Dusseldorf, in cases brought by environmental group DUH over poor air quality.

The court rejected the appeals by the state governments and ordered Stuttgart and Dusseldorf to amend their anti-pollution plans, saying that city bans can be implemented even without nationwide rules.

"This is a great day for clean air in Germany," DUH managing director Juergen Resch said.

In their ruling, the judges said any diesel bans should be imposed gradually, with exceptions granted to certain vehicles. In Stuttgart, a diesel ban could be enforced in September, at the earliest.

DUH sued Stuttgart and Dusseldorf to force them to implement driving bans, after about 70 German cities were found to exceed European Union NOx limits.

Dr Merkel said yesterday that only in the case of the few cities where emissions were far in excess of targets were further measures needed.

"We are examining the ruling and will discuss with municipalities and the communes how to proceed," she said.

Shares of German automakers Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW traded down 1.7 per cent, 0.4 per cent and 0.8 per cent, respectively.

Sales of diesel cars have been falling fast in Europe since the Volkswagen scandal, with fears of driving bans sending demand sharply down in Germany in the past year.

The share of diesel cars in overall vehicle production in Europe could be cut to 27 per cent by 2025 from 52 per cent in 2015, British bank Barclays forecasts.

Carmakers have pledged to overhaul software on 5.3 million diesel cars and are offering trade-in incentives for older models to help improve air quality.

Cities will probably target models with older emission controls. Of the 15 million diesel cars on Germany's roads, only 2.7 million have the latest Euro-6 technology, data by the KBA motor vehicle watchdog shows.

Retrofits would cost billions of euros and an outright ban could slash resale prices, which are used for price leasing and finance contracts.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 28, 2018, with the headline 'German cities can ban diesel cars, top court rules'. Print Edition | Subscribe