Just days after German auto executives and political leaders met in Berlin in an apparent bid to save diesel engine technology, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has apparently conceded that diesel’s days are numbered in the wake of the Volkswagen and Mercedes emissions scandals.
Despite German manufacturers committing to contribute to a fund worth 500 million Euro (approx. $590 million) to finance measures to reduce urban pollution, the automakers were unanimous in opposing plans by German cities to emulate London and Paris’ plan to remove ICE cars from urban centers by 2040. Merkel seems to have conceded, however, that such bans are the right approach to reducing harmful emissions. “I don’t want to name an exact year,” she said, but Britain and France’s plans to phase out internal combustion-driven cars by 2040 “were the right approach.”
Merkel’s about face on diesel’s future is accompanied with a large finger pointed directly at Volkswagen, who cheated emissions tests with a clever device that made its cars act differently in testing environments that has cost the company billions in fines and corporate goodwill. VW’s emissions scandal has damaged the reputation of Germany’s auto industry, and Merkel argued that the millions of consumers who had been deceived by the cheats must get the environmental emissions performance they had been promised.
Volkswagen, Daimler, and BMW confront growing public outrage both for lying about their vehicles’ emissions and for underplaying the health effects of diesel fumes and harmful nitrogen oxides. In the meantime, leaders of both of Germany’s major political parties face criticism that they have been too cozy with carmakers by blocking stricter European Union regulation of diesel emissions and providing tax breaks on diesel fuel. Those tax breaks favoring diesel-engined cars, though, will remain in place in the immediate future.