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20th Jan 2019

Germany's solution to Dieselgate: buy German cars

  • A Volkswagen showcased in Berlin in October 2015, weeks after the Dieselgate scandal began (Photo: Gilbert Sopakuwa)

Germany's national car certification authority is sending letters to consumers urging them to buy a cleaner car – but seemingly nudging them towards buying a German-made car.

The authority, a German governmental organisation, is the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA, Federal Motor Transport Authority) and they appear in the letter to be openly promoting new 'home-made' vehicles - whilst ostensibly only alerting the recipient to possible diesel-emission issues with their existing car.

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  • Letter from the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA), or Federal Motor Transport Authority (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The existence of the letter was revealed on Tuesday (6 November) by Juergen Resch, director of the environmentalist group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (Environmental Action Germany), and seen by EUobserver.

It was presented as an example of the blurred lines between German car companies and the government that is supposed to oversee them.

The letter told the recipient that, according to the KBA's register, she owned a diesel car that did not conform to the latest (Euro 6) emissions standards, and that she lived in a region where the annual nitrogen dioxide limits were being exceeded.

The KBA informed the recipient of the letter that the government wanted to renew the fleet of diesel cars to improve air quality and avoid city bans of polluting diesel cars.

It went on to say that there was a bonus available for those who handed in their old diesel cars, and referred to special "hotlines" of three car companies: BMW, Daimler, and VW – all German companies.

The top right of the letter listed websites and phone numbers for the three German companies.

"For further questions, please contact exclusively these hotlines", the letter said. (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Although the letter did say that the consumer was "of course free" to ask other car companies about any available premiums for handing in old diesel cars, Resch called the letter purely an "advertisement" for Germany's own carmakers.

"It's only about buying a new car," he said.

What makes the letter so remarkable, is that the KBA is the 'type approval authority' in Germany, in charge of making sure that cars are compliant with EU legislation.

Its president since 2004 has been Ekhard Zinke, who appeared in 2016 at a Dieselgate hearing in the European Parliament.

Despite the KBA being in charge of checking for emissions software known as 'defeat devices', Zinke claimed that he had not heard about them before the scandal broke.

He also was of the opinion that VW did not need to pay a fine because being forced to recall the faulty cars was punishment enough.

Resch revealed the existence of the letter at a conference in Brussels about the aftermath of the Dieselgate emissions scandal, organised by the European Public Health Alliance, Eurocities, and Transport & Environment.

He said that "probably ... millions of car owners" have received or will receive the letter.

Resch complained that the letter was an example of how nothing has changed in the cosy relationship between the German car industry and German government.

Those links have always been very close - but they were tested over the past three years, since the outbreak of the Dieselgate scandal.

The scandal began in September 2015 when it was revealed that Volkswagen Group had equipped 8.5 million cars in Europe with cheating software – which duped the official test into thinking that the car was clean when it in fact was breaking EU emissions limits.

It resulted in the diesel brand becoming tainted, and dozens of European cities banning older diesels to prevent their citizens breathing polluted air.

43m dirty diesels still on streets

Even more than three years after the scandal first broke, new developments continue to occur.

"Dieselgate is still not over," said the responsible EU commissioner, Elzbieta Bienkowska, at the conference.

"It seems that industry is still using loopholes," she added.

"Despite all of the bad news that we see and hear, it is honest to admit that we have made really progress in the last three years," Bienkowska did, however, note.

There have been new testing procedures introduced, as well as a bigger role for EU oversight in a system that until recently was mostly national.

But Bienkowska also noted that everyone involved had to "do better" to clean up Europe's streets, on which an estimated 43 million dirty diesel cars are still driving around.

She also said the European Commission needed to do better.

"I know that sometimes we are not fast enough. I am very impatient," she said.

VW dismisses complaints on Dieselgate fix

'I think customers who want to get information (...) are able to receive information if they want," VW management board member Hiltrud Werner told EUobserver. Consumer groups disagree.

Interview

Dieselgate disappointed car-loving commissioner

Industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska often finds herself on opposite sides to the car industry, referring to diesel engines as the "technology of the past".

Magazine

Dieselgate: The year that went up in smoke

The outrage at Volkswagen's industrial-scale emissions cheating has not subsided, but the EU and Germany have done little to punish the automaker or provide compensation to its customers.

Investigation

EU states forsook oversight on car emissions

An EUobserver investigation and EU parliament testimony paint a gloomy picture of how EU national authorities neglected to implement clean air car laws.

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