Merkel backs down on diesel stance and blasts emissions cheats
30 June 2017
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a supporter of the country’s powerful automotive industry and a defender of diesel, appears to have accepted that the days of the fuel may be numbered, as she hit out at carmakers accused of cheating in emissions testing.
In an interview with the country’s Wirtschaftswoche magazine, Merkel did not give a clear commitment to the diesel technology that her government has promoted in the past, in an effort to cut CO2 emissions and reverse climate change.
She commented: ‘There is nothing that can justify the fraudulent methods used to limit test values in the diesel area of some manufacturers that has damaged the whole diesel business. For many years, we have appreciated diesel because it helped save fuel and CO2.’
Merkel has been criticised by environmental groups for defending the diesel industry since the Volkswagen (VW) Dieselgate scandal emerged in September 2015, when it was revealed that the German manufacturer had used software on vehicles to cheat emissions testing in the US. The company has agreed a settlement amount worth €25 billion (€22.6 billion) for compensation and buybacks. However the company has not offered compensation to European customers.
The comments come as Germany is heading to the polls on 24 September 2017, with her government under pressure to reduce diesel pollution or see cities impose driving bans. While sales of diesel vehicles have fallen in Germany and throughout Europe since the scandal broke, in Germany they have dropped faster since Stuttgart and Munich have considered bringing in legislation that prevents drivers of diesel cars from entering the city.
In June 2017, German ministers announced they would establish a new diesel forum, and also set up a new organisation to test vehicles, bringing together legislators, environmental groups and vehicle manufacturers to ensure a fair and trustworthy test. Meanwhile, BMW and Audi have announced that they will retrofit Euro 5 diesel vehicles with new software to cut their emissions, in an agreement with the state of Bavaria.
Merkel has had to defend claims that she knew about the VW scandal before the news broke in 2015, saying that she first learned of the Volkswagen (VW) emissions scandal through the media. She has also admitted that the country is likely to miss the government target of bringing a million electric cars (EVs) to the roads by the end of the decade.
She has warned that the automotive industry needs to invest in technology to ensure Germany does not lose its position as a leader in automotive production, saying: ‘We need long-term horizons and companies that invest in the future. It is important that electric mobility is ready for the market as quickly as possible.’
Meanwhile, prosecutors in Stuttgart have launched a preliminary probe against employees at German vehicle maker Porsche AG to see whether they were involved in designing engine management software to cheat emissions tests. While not a formal investigation at present, some models are fitted with the same 3.0-litre engine found in certain Audi models, which are subject to a separate probe about their development.
The Stuttgart prosecutor's office is also formally investigating three employees at automotive supplier Bosch for their possible role ‘in aiding and abetting emissions fraud by Volkswagen.’
Prosecutor Jan Holzner comments: ‘We are investigating three employees. All three are managers, with the highest ranking being in middle management.’ There is also a possibility that the probe could be widened to cover more employees.
Bosch has not admitted any fault in the Dieselgate scandal, however it has agreed a settlement with US courts, and has faced further scrutiny in its role in the saga with announcements of legal proceedings against General Motors, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) and Daimler, all of which run Bosch software. The company produced the engine control unit, known as EDC17, for VW’s EA189 engine which failed emissions testing in the US.
Bosch said it takes allegations of engine manipulation ‘very seriously’ and is fully cooperating with authorities.
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