The EU's new clean air law and hesitant consumers are causing German carmakers to scramble to equip diesel cars with soot filters as several German cities have reached pollution levels that require driving bans.
The EU law places limits on cancer-causing pollutants
The filters became necessary after a new EU law took effect on Jan. 1. It places limits on the air levels of nitrogen oxides and other cancer-causing pollutants, such as soot particles emitted by diesel vehicles. German cities have to control their air quality and take countermeasures, such as driving bans, if the pollution levels are too high.
While most carmakers had said last year they would include filters by 2008 or 2009, most major producers have now pushed the date forward: According to Munich-based daily Süddeutsche Zeitung, Mercedes-Benz diesel cars will come with the filter by the summer. BMW has also announced that customers will be able to order their cars with filters in a few months, although they still have to pay extra for them in smaller models. While Audi and Volkswagen will also charge for filters, Ford still hasn't announced their plans, the paper reported. Opel already offers filters for its diesel cars.
Car industry analysts believe that as many as 30,000 Germans are holding off on buying a new car because manufacturers have failed to offer filters so far.
"Customers will either wait or buy foreign cars," car industry expert Ferdinand Düdenhöffer told Welt am Sonntag newspaper. French car producers such as Peugeot or Citroen already offer their Diesel cars with the filters. But several carmakers said that part of the problem was that filters were hard to come by at the moment.
German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin has criticized carmakers for failing to introduce filters more swiftly. But the federal government is also still embroiled in a fight with German states over who will pay for tax rebates meant as incentives to convince people to buy cars with filters. States claim they will lose up to 1.5 billion euros ($1.94 billion) in taxes as a result and are calling on the federal government to compensate them.
Carmakers meanwhile also said they felt unfairly targeted, adding that diesel cars were only one of several pollutants.
The pollution levels have already been exceeded in Stuttgart and Munich, causing residents of the two cities to file lawsuits calling on courts to order the municipal governments to take action against the pollution.
But officials for the Federation of German Cities said they didn't believe the lawsuits would be successful as claimants had to prove a concrete and not an abstract threat to their health, according to dpa news service. EU commission officials meanwhile said they would take action against Germany for violating EU law should environmental groups call on Brussels to do so.