Five million diesel cars in Germany get software update to reduce NOx emissions

The software installed in five million diesel cars will be updated in order to cut inner-city pollution in Germany, after a deal was hashed out between automakers and the government.

Since Volkswagen admitted to cheating US diesel emissions tests in September 2015, 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 powerful carmakers.

The issue has become a central campaign topic ahead of next month’s national election, prompting the government to call crisis talks on Wednesday to show it is taking action, as environmental groups try to force bans on diesel vehicles.

However, ministers are also wary of angering the drivers of 15 million diesel vehicles and damaging an industry that is the country’s biggest exporter and provides around 800,000 jobs.

The VDA automakers lobby said its members had agreed to pay for the software updates of five million cars, including 2.5 million VW cars that have already been recalled, to reduce their average emissions of toxic nitrogen oxides by 25-30 per cent.

The move should reduce pollution at least as much as driving bans proposed in major cities, the VDA said in a statement, adding: “The car industry knows it has lost a lot of trust. We must and will work on winning back that trust.”

The stakes have increased for German carmakers in recent weeks. Britain and France have announced plans to eventually ban all diesel and petrol vehicles and Tesla has launched its first mass-market electric car.

Meanwhile, top German manufacturers BMW, Daimler , Audi, Porsche and VW are being investigated by European regulators for alleged anti-competitive collusion.

German automakers under fire

An opinion poll published on Wednesday by Die Welt newspaper showed 73 per cent of Germans want politicians to take a tougher line with the car industry on air pollution.

German car sales data on Wednesday showed diesel car sales fell 12.7 per cent in July. Now diesel makes up only 40.5 per cent of new car sales in Europe’s largest car market, down from 46 per cent at the end of last year.

“We need to save diesel... but there must also be a new push into the electric era,” said Armin Laschet, the premier of North-Rhine Westphalia, home to about a third of Germany’s automotive suppliers and Ford’s European headquarters.

Activists from environmental group Greenpeace hung a banner across the facade of the German transport ministry on Wednesday proclaiming “Welcome to Fort NOX”, a play on the abbreviation for the toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted by diesel vehicles.

“The diesel summit is defending worn-out diesel technology as if it was gold in Fort Knox,” Greenpeace said in a tweet, referring to the US military post where gold is stored.

Electric cars on the rise

Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks, from the centre-left Social Democrats, said software updates would just be a first step and the government would continue discussions with the car industry on further measures to cut emissions.

“The German car industry obviously hasn’t got a good reputation at the moment, to put it mildly,” she told SWR2 radio. “We must avert this image damage, but we are just at the beginning of warding it off.”

The US Environmental Protection Agency recently approved a fix for 326,000 Volkswagen (VW) diesel cars which includes both a software and a hardware upgrade. 

End of the road for petrol and diesel cars

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