Germany's highest administrative court has confirmed that German cities have the right to ban the use of old diesel vehicles on the streets with immediate effect to bring air pollution levels into line with European Union standards.
One day after the European Commission filed a complaint with Europe's highest court against Germany for its repeated failure to protect air quality in its cities, the details of the German resolution will increase pressure on Volkswagen and its German peers to provide hardware solutions for diesel pollution models.
Reuters Newsagency reports that research firm Evercore ISI has said this could cost the industry € 14.5 billion.
Germany opened the door to diesel bans in February when it allowed environmental groups to sue cities that don't enforce Europe's clean air rules, despite fierce lobbying to oppose the bans from automakers.
Dozens of German cities, including Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart exceed the EU limits for nitrogen oxide (NOx), which is known to cause respiratory diseases.
In a 30-page statement on the just-released ruling, Germany's administrative court in Leipzig said there should be no grace periods for driving bans.
"Such restrictions, in their intensity, do not go beyond another passage and suspend the prohibitions as justified by the requirements of the road law, which motorists always have to take into account and which they mainly have to accept," said the court.
European automakers have invested heavily in diesel engines, which produce less global warming carbon than gasoline, but other pollutants attributed to the disease.
Germany's decision to allow cities to ban diesel engines from the streets could have wide implications for the future of the industry.
Bans on the home of some of the world's largest automakers are an additional blow to the industry, and an embarrassment to Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, which has come under fire for its close ties to the industry.
"This ruling is a disaster for the government, unilaterally representing automakers' greed for profit, while leaving 10 million owners of rigged diesel cars alone," said Juergen Resch, managing director of DUH's environmental lobby at Germany.
Immediate driving bans on major roads or stretches of roads would be legitimate and could affect all models except those that meet the latest Euro6 emissions standards, according to the statement.
Of the 15 million diesel cars on Germany's roads, only 2.7 million have Euro6 technology, which entered the phase in 2014.
For broader urban areas spanning a multitude of main roads and side streets, the court recommended a gradual implementation of bans, starting with older cars that meet Euro4 emissions standards.
The Euro4 standard was superseded by Euro5 as of 2009.
Germany's VDA vehicle industry lobby urged cities to maintain a sense of proportion when deciding their course of action, noting that NOx levels should drop significantly in the coming months as more Euro6 models are sold and more upgrade older model emission control software.
"What is at stake is not general driving bans, but an assessment of whether local measures are even necessary to meet legal air quality goals," said VDA President Bernhard Mattes.
The Leipzig court had said in February that Euro5 vehicles should not be banned until September 1, 2019.
Merchants and some residents should also be exempt, it said at the time.
The decision is the latest regulatory action to come in the wake of Volkswagen's 2015 diesel emissions test cheating scandal, and was sparked by legal action from Germany's DUH.
"The courts have been awaiting the statement of the ruler received today," said Remo Klinger, a lawyer representing DUH, which is pursuing lawsuits in 28 German cities, including Munich and Frankfurt.
"We believe that in many cases, it will quickly reach hearings and oral decisions.
Germany's second-most populous city, Hamburg, said it began putting up signs to enforce driving bans on older diesel cars, with local authorities expecting the restrictions to take effect later this month.
Source (in English)