BERLIN, Sept. 28 (Xinhua) -- German Transport Minister Andreas Scheuer (CSU) has backtracked on proposals for mandatory hardware upgrades in the "dieselgate" scandal again after recently signalling his belated approval for such measures, the magazine "SPIEGEL" reported on Friday.
According to "SPIEGEL", Scheuer had hereby changed his mind due to unresolved questions over legal liability. While the Volkswagen Group, Germany's largest automotive producer, had surprisingly said it would support hardware upgrades on Thursday night, the country's other major carmakers and automotive supplier companies reportedly refused to do so out of fear of being held accountable for potential damage caused to the vehicles.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has recently promised to provide German motorists affected by the emissions-cheating scandal with clarity by Monday on concrete measures adopted in response to looming driving bans.
Following the unilateral announcement of bans in cities such as Hamburg, Stuttgart and Frankfurt, her ruling "grand coalition" has come under intense pressure to decide on whether it will force carmakers to conduct so-called technical upgrades of diesel vehicles as an alternative and less disruptive means to reduce urban nitrogen oxide (NOx) pollution levels.
Carmakers have themselves pointed to such fleet renewal measures as the best solution to the diesel emissions scandal, citing improvements in motor efficiency and exhaust systems cleaning technology.
The German Federal Environment Agency (UBA) estimates that diesel cars are responsible for more than 50 percent of harmful NOx emissions in Germany, levels of which currently exceed EU limits in several of the country's major cities.
In an apparent sign that the government is seriously mulling technical upgrades, as well as fleet renewal, to ensure regulatory compliance with EU clean air standards, Scheuer announced earlier that Berlin was looking into ways to subsidize the retrofitting of diesel motors by garages. Minister for the Environment Svenja Schulze (SPD) has argued that nothing short thereof would suffice to avert outright driving bans.
Having been rebuffed by all carmakers save for Volkswagen, "SPIEGEL" reported on Friday that Scheuer would now prioritize fleet renewal again as the government's preferred means to improve urban air quality. The magazine cited an unnamed source within his ministry who said that Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW were willing to offer customer a premium of several thousand euros for each older diesel vehicle (Euro 4 and 5 exhaust system norms) exchanged against a car of the new Euro 6-d-Temp exhaust standard.
It is unclear whether the proposals will satisfy Schulze and non-governmental environmental groups which have repeatedly called for nothing short of hardware upgrades. Schulze has noted that fleet renewal would only benefit vehicle owners who could afford to buy a new car. Additionally, recent emissions testing conducted independently by the German Environmental Aid (DUH) group has concluded that even the newest Euro6 diesel motor types release 5.5 times more NOx emissions on average than permitted under European Union (EU) law.
Only 8.4 percent of vehicles tested by DUH complied with regulatory limits. DUH president Juergen Resch urged Merkel's government to finally confront "fraudulent automotive companies" and begin offering real assistance to customers affected by the scandal.
The DUH has filed dozens of lawsuits against cities in breach of EU clean air legislation in the wake of a related landmark ruling by the federal administrative court and is hence indirectly responsible for the first diesel driving bans to be mandated by courts in Germany.