Merkel says carmakers responsible to help improve air quality

Bicyclists cross an intersection as cars wait at a red light in the city centre of Berlin. (Bloomberg pic)

FRANKFURT: German Chancellor Angela Merkel said comprehensive measures are planned to ensure diesel-emission limits are met across Europe’s largest economy, adding that vehicle manufacturers have a responsibility to help improve air quality.

“We now want to make sure as soon as possible that these limits are kept and driving bans are avoided wherever possible,” Merkel said Saturday in her weekly podcast. The government will support hardware retrofits for delivery vehicles between 2.8 and 7.5 metric tons that often drive around in inner city areas, she said.

The German government is convinced the steps will lead to significant air quality improvement in the vast majority of cities, “but there remain 14 cities where more measures are needed,” Merkel said. “This is where the responsibility of the auto industry comes into effect.”

There will be offers from manufacturers to trade in vehicles for cars that comply with emission limits and options for hardware retrofits wherever it’s technically possible, she added.

Automakers have come under intense scrutiny by regulators and environmental groups in the wake of Volkswagen AG’s diesel emissions scandal, which sent shock waves across the entire industry three years ago when US authorities uncovered large-scale engine manipulation to meet emission tests for diesel engines.

Automaker plans
Less stringent emission rules for diesel cars in Europe, where regulators focus more on carbon dioxide output, have complicated efforts to force manufacturers to make cars cleaner. Germany’s ruling coalition earlier this week pushed VW, Daimler AG and BMW AG to agree on a plan to reduce harmful emissions.

Manufacturers have resisted costly hardware changes, citing valid certifications for the cars, and the option remains controversial with BMW balking at the proposal. VW is willing to undertake some hardware fixes if other automakers do as well. Daimler, the maker of Mercedes-Benz cars, will consider the move but intends to focus on trade-ins.

It remains unclear to what extent the planned measures will include non-German manufacturers who sell vehicles in the country.