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Diesel drivers are voters, too!

October 2, 2018

First the disclaimer: No, I don't drive a diesel-powered car. But I do understand motorists who are fed up with the diesel scandal after three years of political roiling, says DW's Sabine Kinkartz.

Deutschland Koalitionsausschuss zur Diesel-Krise
Image: Getty Images/AFP/T. Schwarz

Diesel drivers are angry and disappointed. Every few weeks they are asked to swallow more bad news with no end in sight: nitrogen oxide limits in the atmosphere exceeded, another city announcing a driving ban. And, as the scandal drags on into its third year, new cases of fraud still come to the surface.

So, what now? Is all well again after the government's all-night diesel summit? Are all the problems fixed?

No. This is in fact just a lazy compromise between the ruling CDU, CSU and SPD coalition and has no real redress to offer the battered diesel driver.

As a reminder: In the US, any owner of a diesel caught up in this ongoing scandal can simply return his car and be compensated, something German drivers can only dream of.

Read more:   German government announces details of diesel agreement

Refit or bonus?

In Germany, diesel drivers now have a choice between a hardware conversion of their old car or a trade-in premium for the purchase of a cleaner car.

DW business correspondent Sabine Kinkartz
DW business correspondent Sabine Kinkartz

But that sounds better than it actually is.

Firstly, hardware retrofitting is not available to the extent that is needed for the many millions of old diesel vehicles, for technical reasons. This was already clear before this recent diesel summit.

Secondly, the government expects the respective car manufacturers to pay for this, including installation.

You cannot force people, says CSU Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer, shrugging his shoulders and pointing to the SPD, which pushed for refits.

Scheuer voted from the start for exchange premiums, which were also favored by the automotive industry. Two birds could be killed with one stone, he argued: Take the diesel stinkers out of circulation and at the same time ramp up new business for the industry. Conversion meanwhile costs a lot and sells nothing.

Diesel demand down in Germany

Who should pay for it?

However, very few car owners are financially able to simply buy a new vehicle. This is a purchase that is usually planned and, above all, financed in the long term. For the offered premium plus the trade-in of the old car few would get an equivalent replacement.

But as Scheuer said before the summit, an all-inclusive package was never going to be part of the deal.

Read more:  Opinion: Farewell to diesel cars in Germany?

More help can be expected for tradespeople, taxi drivers, and also local authorities. For them, there are to be be support programs for retrofitting, covering 80 percent of the costs. And that would be covered by taxpayer, that is, by you and me.

This is reminiscent of the bank bailout during the financial crisis. Politicians spare the polluters and pass the costs on to the public. Does anyone in politics remember where that led? Down an avenue marked by political disenchantment and populism.

Fell or pushed?

In fact, the reason the government moved at all on this was a court ruling that health protection outweighs free travel for citizens.

For three years, the government has kicked the can down the road, hoping the crisis will resolve itself. At some point in the future, time itself would simply sweep the old diesels off the roads. This was a line propagated by the car manufacturers, in particular, with strong links to the German Chancellery.

But Germany is a country of motorists. Around 46 million passenger cars were registered in Germany at the beginning of this year. Of these, 30 million run on gasoline and 15 million on diesel. There are also small and large trucks and buses.

Read more:  Daimler expands its e-battery production

Millions of angry car owners are in turn millions of angry and increasingly politicized voters. And they are turning away from the coalition parties. Bavaria and Hesse go to the polls soon and motorists will vote too. In Bavaria, 40 percent of all cars have a diesel engine and the Hessian metropolis of Frankfurt is one of the most polluted cities in Germany.

Jürgen Resch: 'The state is behaving like a criminal'

The future is light and small

Petrol-based solutions are thus not solutions at all, as climate-damaging CO2 emissions continue to rise.

But German drivers' love of bigger, faster, more comfortable cars, with all the assistance devices for driving comfort and stability, is undiminished. Around 100 control units are installed in the average modern car today and their weight is correspondingly high, above all in the popular SUV. And these cars drive best on diesel. A comparable gasoline engine would have to be much stronger and have consumption levels beyond the 20-liter mark.

The buyer of a Porsche Cayenne cares little about this, which is why the manufacturer of this sports car has not found it particularly hard to say goodbye to diesel.

At VW, Audi, Daimler and BMW things are different, although they too can no longer talk of clean diesel. Instead, they will now have to start offering their customers the real thing.

The internal combustion engine is a discontinued model and the future is electric. The cars of tomorrow will be light and probably much smaller.

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