German automakers and lawmakers convene to mitigate pollution

With France and Britain deciding to eventually ban all petrol and diesel vehicles, pressure is building on Germany’s top exporters to tackle long standing issues related to the release of pollutants in the atmosphere.

Car executives are set to meet German ministers on Wednesday on ways to mitigate inner-city pollution levels, to try and stave off a ban on diesel cars.

Ever since Volkswagen admission of cheating U.S. diesel emissions tests in September 2015, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has come under fire for not doing enough to crack down on vehicle pollution and for being too close to car manufacturers.

The issue has gained prominence and has become a central topic ahead of the country’s national elections scheduled for next month.

The government is naturally keen to show that it is in fact taking action. However, lawmakers are wary of tinkering too much with an industry that it the country’s biggest exporter and which caters to more than 800,000 jobs.

“We still need a strong auto industry. We want our carmakers to continue to be successful in the world and to carry on building the best cars,” said Armin Laschet, the premier of the North-Rhine Westphalia region that is home to many car plants.

He went on to add, “We need to save diesel… but there must also be a new push into the electric era”.

In recent weeks, the stakes have increased further with Britain and France announcing their plans to eventually ban all petrol and diesel vehicles.

Top carmakers of Europe, including BMW, Daimler, VW, Audi, Porsche are being investigated by European regulators for alleged anti-competitive collusion.

Consumers want lawmakers to take a tougher line on air pollution. As per an opinion poll published by German newspaper Die Welt newspaper, 73% of Germans want politicians to take a tougher line with the car industry on air pollution.

As per government and industry sources, carmakers would probably be spared of costly hardware changes to engines and would instead be required to carry out software updates to nearly 2 million vehicles.

Whether this measure will be enough to control and lessen pollution levels is to be seen.

“Software updates are better than nothing, but I have doubts this deal will persuade people to start buying diesels again,” said Stefan Bratzel, head of the Center of Automotive Management think-tank near Cologne.

As per Stephan Weil, premier of the Lower Saxony state, and home to VW, he did not expect a quick fix to the sector’s problems.

“The car industry made serious mistakes, huge mistakes over many years,” said Weil to ZDF television. “We will not be able to clear up an aberration that developed over so many years within months or just a few days.”

As per the DUH environmental lobby, there are nearly 15 million diesel vehicles on Germany’s streets; they contribute nearly 40% of NOx pollution.

“The car industry is wrapped up in a prolonged crisis of confidence,” said Bratzel. “It’s high time for automakers to make a contribution to get out of this mess.”

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