21 May 18

German cities can ban Euro 5 diesels immediately

The top administrative court in Germany has now officially confirmed that German cities can impose diesel bans in restricted areas with immediate effect. Moreover, it specifies that the bans should not involve Euro 6 diesel cars. The ruling comes just one day after the EUs lawsuit against Germany and 5 other member states for its repeated failure to ensure air quality in its cities.

Nearly three months ago, the Leipzig court ruled in favour of environmental groups Deutsche Umwelthilfe (German environmental aid or DUH) and ClientEarth, paving the way for cities across Germany to introduce diesel bans. At the time, the court said it would be up to city and municipal authorities to apply the bans, but advised them to “exercise proportionality” in enforcing them, to impose them gradually and to provide certain exemptions.

Last Friday, the long-awaited written court statement was finally published. Much to the relief of the city of Hamburg, which had already been putting up “No diesel up until Euro 5/V” road signs at the edges of its LEZ last week, the 30-page statement says there should be no grace period. By the end of May, most pre-2014 diesels are no longer allowed in the city’s congested heart.

Up until Euro 5

The ruling is out – and for some, it is tougher than expected. Particularly the fact that all diesel models up until Euro 5 are affected is a major blow to the industry, which is blamed for building cars that emit far more NOx in real life than what the Euro 5 threshold (180 mg/km) allows.

Of the 15 million diesel cars on Germany's roads today, only 2.7 million are Euro 6 compliant and thereby exempt from the ban. Euro 6 was introduced in September 2014. The 12.3 million diesels that are built before will face restrictions, not least Euro 4 cars.

Germany’s car manufacturers association VDA urges cities to keep a sense of proportion when deciding their course of action, noting that NOx levels should fall significantly in coming months as more Euro 6 models are sold and the emissions-control software of older models is updated, Automotive News reports.

The end of an era

The ruling marks the end of a period in which car makers were believed untouchable, having close ties with the German government and always threatening that millions of jobs were at stake if severe environmental actions would be taken against them.

“It is very important to note the context of the European Union’s lawsuit against Germany and five other member states on failure to meet limits on NOx and particulate matters. Air quality offences are no longer seen as trivial, and protectionism of an industry with repeated, intentional and accidental breaches is simply no longer tenable. The tide has shifted", says Lukas Neckermann, Managing Director at Neckermann Strategic Advisors.

"Cities across Europe - and indeed the world - are exerting their power to protect their citizens from harmful air quality. Some will choose to restrict entry, others will choose economic measures such as congestion and low-emissions zones and penalties. Free movement is not a debatable proposition, but now we see that air quality isn’t either."

Consequences for fleet

The fact that Euro 6 diesels, i.e. most fleet cars (Euro 6 was introduced in September 2014), are exempt from city access restrictions, may bring relief to some. However, some believe that it only buys time and does not guarantee the long-term survival of diesel, in spite of the German automotive industry investing heavily in technologies to get diesel engines clean.

Mr Neckermann reckons that for fleet managers, the ruling fundamentally shifts both usability and the TCO proposition. “Combine this with a flood of new, highly efficient electrified models coming to market, and we’ll see that buying new diesels will be unviable for urban fleets in Europe in the next 24 months."

Picture copyright: Wikipedia, 2018

Authored by: Dieter Quartier