Diesel Fears Become Reality With First Driving Ban in Germany

(Bloomberg) -- Hamburg, Germany’s second-largest city, will restrict older diesel vehicles from selected urban areas starting next week, marking the first driving ban in the country for the embattled technology.

Beginning May 31, the port city of 1.8 million people will prevent cars and trucks that don’t meet at least Euro-6 emissions standards from using a stretch of Max Brauer Allee, a key avenue that runs northeast from the Altona train station. It will also ban trucks from a 1-mile (1.6-kilometer) section of Stresemannstrasse, a major east-west thoroughfare, according to a statement. Cars equipped with Euro-6 exhaust systems went on the market in 2014.

The decision to move forward, following a legal review of a plan outlined in February, puts Hamburg at the forefront of German cities seeking to improve air quality by targeting diesel. The country is a cornerstone for the technology, which accounts for thousands of automotive jobs. On Tuesday, Heidelberg Mayor Eckart Wuerzner pledged to allow only zero-emissions vehicles on downtown streets by 2030, though that proposal still must be passed by the local council.

A landmark German court ruling in February opened the door to municipal restrictions on where diesel cars can operate. There’s also mounting pressure from the European Union, which has sued Germany and other member states over failure to meet targets on nitrogen oxides and particulate matter in the air. Last year, more than 65 German cities exceeded permitted levels of NOx, which can cause respiratory problems. The main source of the gases is diesel vehicles.

Emissions Scandal

While Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government has sought to shore up diesel to protect local manufacturing jobs, consumers have gradually shunned the technology in the wake of Volkswagen AG’s emissions-cheating scandal. With demand wavering, carmakers such as Toyota Motor Corp. and Nissan Motor Co. have announced plans to halt diesel-model sales.

To combat the concerns, BMW AG, Volkswagen and Peugeot maker PSA Group are offering deals that allow car owners to switch to a gasoline variant if they’re affected by driving bans.

Even as they emit higher amounts of NOx, diesel autos produce less carbon dioxide than equivalent gasoline vehicles. That makes the fuel especially important for German carmakers to lower CO2 emissions to meet environmental rules that will tighten in 2021.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.