German carmakers to fund diesel retrofits, says transport minister

Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer has announced that German car manufacturers have agreed to retrofit older diesel vehicles at their own cost. BMW, however, has refused to go along with the plan.

German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer met with managers from automobile manufacturers Daimler, Volkswagen (VW) and BMW in Berlin on Thursday. The meeting was held to discuss government plans for manufacturers to pay for retrofitting hardware for older diesel vehicles.

Nature and Environment | 08.11.2018

Scheuer announced that Daimler and Volkswagen were prepared to pay up to €3,000 ($3,429) per vehicle. BMW has refused to take part in the program. Scheuer also announced that he would meet with foreign manufacturers in an effort to ensure they abide by the same emissions standards as domestic manufacturers.

Daimler and VW also intend to pursue trade-in incentives to entice buyers to purchase new, more fuel-efficient cars. BMW has insisted that the retrofit plan is the wrong path forward, saying a better plan would be for customers to buy new cars rather than trying to change the past.

'Threatens jobs'

Manfred Schoch, who heads the BMW works council, says the government's plan to treat all manufacturers the same "threatens jobs at carmakers that have been producing clean diesels all along." He continued by adding: "Rather than investing in the past we need a comprehensive charging infrastructure for e-mobility."

BMW development manager Klaus Fröhlich was similarly skeptical of Scheuer's plan: "It will take years before a hardware retrofit can do anything to improve air quality — if at all." Others at BMW pointed out that retrofits will only add weight to cars and thereby increase fuel consumption. 

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'The state is behaving like a criminal'

Profits before people

The battle over diesel emissions, air pollution and the role of German automakers in that equation has been brewing for years. VW, the world's largest automaker, was famously found to have cheated on emissions tests in what became known as Dieselgate after news of systematic cheating became public in September 2015.

Germany's successive governments have been accused of kowtowing to the country's powerful automobile industry, putting its wishes — and profits — before public health.

Another blow to owners of older diesel vehicles — and eventually manufacturers — came on Tuesday morning, when the Cologne Administrative Court ruled in favor of the German environmental group DUH. The court found merit in DUH's complaint that diesel emissions from older vehicles were greatly to blame for poor air quality and thus would have to be banned in the North Rhine-Westphalian cities of Cologne and Bonn from April 2019 on.

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The disaster unfolds

About two weeks after Volkswagen admitted behind closed doors to US environmental regulators that it had installed cheating software in some 11 million of its diesel vehicles worldwide, the Environmental Protection Agency shared that information with the public. It was September 18, 2015. The ensuing crisis would eventually take a few unexpected turns.

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The boss must go, long live the boss

Volkswagen's then-CEO Martin Winterkorn (above) had little choice but to step down several days after news of the scandal broke. In September, he tendered his resignation, but retained his other posts within the Volkswagen Group. Winterkorn's successor was Matthias Müller. Until taking the reins at VW, Müller had been the chairman at Porsche, a VW subsidiary.

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Raiding headquarters

Regulators in the US weren't the only ones investigating VW. Authorities in Lower Saxony, the German state in which VW is based, were also scrutinizing the company. On October 8, state prosecutors raided VW's headquarters along with several other corporate locations.

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Hell breaks loose

On January 4, 2016, the US government filed a lawsuit against VW in Detroit, accusing the German automaker of fraud and violations of American climate protection regulations. The lawsuit sought up to $46 billion for violations of the Clean Air Act.

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Quit or forced out?

In March, the head of VW in the US, Michael Horn, resigned. In the initial days and weeks after the scandal broke, he was the one US authorities turned to for information. He issued an official apology on behalf of the automaker, asking for the public's forgiveness.

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Settlement

On October 25, a US judge approved a final settlement that would have VW pay $15.3 billion. In addition, affected cars would be retrofitted with better, non-deceptive hardware and software, or else VW would buy them back completely from customers.

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Imitators

When dieselgate first emerged in 2015, analysts said it was likely other car makers were also cheating tests. But it wasn't until 2017 that other companies were targeted in probes. In July, German authorities launched investigations into luxury car makers Porsche and Daimler for allegedly cheating emissions tests. Others, such as Audi and Chrysler, have also been hit by similar allegations.

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Public still supportive

Despite dieselgate, VW has managed to keep the emissions scandal from utterly tarnishing its image. According to several polls, between 55 to 67 percent of Germans continue to trust the automaker. In the US, polls show that roughly 50 percent still believe the German company produces worthwhile vehicles.

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Fuming over monkeys

In late January, however, VW suffered another heavy blow over reports that the company experimented on monkeys and made the animals inhale diesel fumes. To make matters worse, a separate experiment that had humans inhale relatively harmless nitrogen dioxide was revealed at the same time. Some media wrongly interpreted this to mean humans were also inhaling toxic fumes.

js/aw (AFP, dpa, Reuters) 

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