BMW's Hometown Munich Mulls Diesel Ban to Fight Air Pollution

  • Bavarian air study shows old cars are spewing hazardous gases
  • Clean-tech incentives work better than bans, BMW counters

Munich, Germany

Photographer: Krisztian Bocsi/Bloomberg

BMW AG’s hometown of Munich is considering outlawing older diesel cars, the latest European city to crack down amid mounting evidence that the technology’s not that clean after all.

The driving ban was floated after a government study detected hazardous pollution levels in the Bavarian city’s air, especially of cancer-causing nitrogen oxide, said a spokeswoman for Mayor Dieter Reiter. Exemptions would apply for buses, taxis and diesels that meet Europe’s latest Euro 6 emissions standards.

Diesel’s image as a better-burning fuel has been tarnished by Volkswagen AG’s emissions-cheating scandal and a growing body of research showing that the engines spew harmful pollutants that can cause smog and cancer. Cities from London and Paris to Mercedes-Benz’s hometown of Stuttgart are making moves to restrict older diesels. Consumers worried about future bans are increasingly switching to gasoline autos.

In Europe, carmakers for years relied on fuel-efficient diesel to meet ever-tightening emissions standards and governments offered tax incentives to spur demand. The technology’s demise adds to manufacturers’ challenge of complying with environmental laws as they’re already struggling to convince drivers to buy electric cars instead of gas-guzzling sport utility vehicles.

Even though diesel’s popularity is waning, the engines still account for 50 percent of European new-car sales. Gasoline autos are less fuel-efficient and emit higher levels of carbon dioxide.

Munich’s proposal comes after a German appeals court ruled that the city acted unlawfully by allowing high levels of nitrogen oxide pollution. Munich’s deliberations, which were reported earlier by Sueddeutsche Zeitung, could be finalized this year.

‘Unfair’ Rules

Diesel’s decline is particularly tough for luxury brands including Audi and Mercedes, whose line-up is filled with heavy vehicles such as the S-Class sedan and Audi Q7 SUV. Diesel cars accounted for 71 percent of BMW’s total sales in Europe in the first four months, down 4.2 percent from a year earlier.

Munich’s proposal won’t solve pollution problems in the long-term, a BMW spokesman said on Wednesday. In May, the company warned that carmakers won’t be able to meet the EU’s 2020 targets on CO2 emissions without diesel, which uses about 20 percent less fuel than gasoline engines.

Mercedes parent Daimler AG has complained that such bans are unfair to customers who bought their cars as recently as 2015, before Euro 6 kicked in.

“There are better, more intelligent measures like incentives for car sharing and electric mobility that would lead to a sustainable improvement,” said BMW spokesman Glenn Schmidt.

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