Joint press release with the Federal Ministry for the Environment

Diesel cars: Software updates are not enough for clean air

Hendricks and Krautzberger: Grant the switchover premium to clean vehicles only

Eine Abgasanlage, aus der Abgase entweichen.Click to enlarge
In Städten ist der Straßenverkehr die Hauptquelle für Stickstoffdioxid.
Source: Stefan Redel / Fotolia

The measures decided at the Diesel Forum on 2 August will achieve a reduction of nitrogen dioxide pollution in Germany’s cities of up to six per cent. However, this cut will not be sufficient for most of the affected cities to comply with the annual mean value of 40 micrograms/cubic metre which is valid in the EU to safeguard human health. These are the results of model calculations by the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) which Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks had commissioned and were published on August 23, 2017.

Federal Minister for the Environment Barbara Hendricks said: “The people in Germany’s cities have a right to clean air. And that’s why we need measures which will quickly reduce nitrogen dioxide (NOx) emissions. The diesel summit was a first step which must be followed by further and even bigger steps. We cannot tolerate a few manufacturers trying to get out of even the software updates. I also find it unacceptable for the automobile industry to not deal with retrofitting. It is in the manufacturers’ interest to come up with solutions quickly, and one thing is clear: they are responsible for both the software updates and hardware retrofitting. And of course they must also bear the costs for these measures."

UBA’s President Maria Krautzberger said: “The reason the air in our cities will hardly improve despite the software update is simply because the vehicles' current standard is much too poor. Euro 5 diesel-powered vehicles without the update currently emit an average 906 milligrams of nitrogen oxides per kilometre – five times more than the limit of 180 milligrams. Current Euro 6 diesel vehicles without RDE have nitrogen oxide exhaust emissions that are six times over the legal limit."

The German Environment Agency has modelled how the software updates agreed at the Diesel Forum and the switchover premiums will affect two select measuring points: one is on Landshuter Allee in Munich where pollution is very high (80 micrograms nitrogen dioxide per cubic metre); the second is on Parcusstraße in Mainz with annual average pollution levels of 53 micrograms per cubic metre. The results show that updates and premiums logically have a greater effect on heavily exposed streets than at locations with less exposure. The reduction achieved in the most likely scenarios would range between two micrograms (Mainz) and five micrograms (Munich).

Ms Krautzberger said: "In nearly 70 cities across Germany those measures are not likely to be enough to reduce the amount of nitrogen dioxide in the air to below the annual mean limit of 40 micrograms. Only roughly 20 cities where pollution levels are currently just below the limit will benefit from the decisions adopted at the Diesel Forum and finally comply with the European limit in effect since 2010.”

According to UBA, the software updates offered by the German automobile manufacturers could reduce the NOx emissions of the entire passenger car fleet by between three and six per cent, depending on how many car owners have the update done (assuming 3.5–5 million vehicle owners) and the actual results of the update (assuming a 15-20% change compared to pre-update).

The switchover premium is considered to have less of an impact overall than the software updates and is estimated to result in a reduction of between 0 and two per cent. Its impact would be significantly greater if it were granted only for the purchase of very clean vehicles – not for Euro 6 diesel vehicles which do not yet pass new on-road tests.

Minister Hendricks said: “It would be ideal for the environment if the premium motivated people to buy small, efficient cars. When purchasing a car, drivers should take advantage of the premium to invest in truly clean vehicles such as electric cars, hybrid and gas-powered cars, efficient petrol engine or diesel-powered vehicles with low real emissions, in accordance with the latest emission regulations requirements. Buyers must ask for manufacturer proof of this compliance."

The expert groups set up at the Diesel Forum will commence their work in the coming weeks and develop further measures for their second summit in autumn. Ms Hendricks said: “Citizens can trust that the federal government will do everything possible to avoid the imposition of driving bans."