Germany’s car makers have agreed to update diesel cars already on the roads to slash the amount of pollution they pump out after a showdown with the government.
Industry giants Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler said they would update the software in 5.3m cars to reduce the emissions of poisonous nitrogen oxide by almost a third.
They also agreed to pay for incentives encouraging drivers of diesel vehicles that were ten years old or older to trade them in for more modern and less polluting cars.
An emergency summit in Berlin thrashed out the deal between government and industry as the country’s powerful automotive sector tries to save diesel vehicles and avoid a ban on them from been driven in Germany cities.
Germany’s software deal means car makers will not have to carry out expensive hardware fixes on recalled cars, something which has left VW facing a huge bill following the “dieselgate” scandal.
Executives from the country’s leading car companies met with ministers on Wednesday amid growing opposition to diesel technology, which German automotive businesses had until recently championed.
However, in the wake of the VW scandal where the company admitted 11m cars worldwide had been fitted with “defeat devices” which cheated pollution controls tests, diesel has fallen out of favour.
Manufacturers agreed to the software changes – which they claimed would not reduce performance – in the face of growing public opposition to diesel and to provide a stop-gap as they race to develop their own electric power trains for their own vehicles.
“Our goal is to improve diesel rather than ban it,” said Daimler boss Dieter Zetsche said in a statement. “As long as e-cars still have a small market share, optimising diesel is the most effective lever to reach climate targets in road transport.”
Car companies are vital to the German economy, with almost half a million people employed manufacturing cars, and the industry turning over almost €400bn (£360bn) a year, of which two thirds is from exports.
However, until the VW scandal, the industry had been focused on the refinement of diesel technology largely at the expense of alternative power, meaning that they lag foreign rivals who have been more open to electric vehicles.
Responding to the agreement, BMW chairman Harald Krüger announced a €2,000 “environment bonus” for owners of older diesels who trade in their cars.
He added: “With BMW, we were the first German manufacturer to make a clear commitment to electric mobility. We are driving the transition as hard and as fast as possible and have launched more electrified vehicles than any of our established competitors.”
However he maintained that the latest, cleanest diesel cars still have a place: “Future mobility will definitely depend on state-of-the-art diesels as well because environmental protection has several dimensions: one of them is the fight against climate change.”
Diesel cars produce less CO2 than petrol vehicles – one of the reasons they were encouraged by governments as they tried to hit climate change targets.
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