One of Germany’s top courts has ruled that heavily polluting vehicles can be banned from the urban centres of Stuttgart and Düsseldorf.
This is a landmark ruling which could cause traffic chaos and dramatically hit the value of diesel cars on the country’s roads.
Environmental campaigners had sued dozens of German cities, arguing that they have a duty to cut excessive air pollution to protect people’s health.
Diesel cars emit nitrogen oxides, or NOx, that causes respiratory illnesses and thousands of premature deaths annually.
Some 70 German cities including Munich, Stuttgart and Cologne recorded average nitrogen dioxide levels above EU thresholds in 2017, according to the Federal Environment Agency (UBA).
The federal government and Germany’s powerful auto industry lobby have always opposed any new restrictions for diesel cars.
Instead, ministers led by Chancellor Angela Merkel have offered a billion-euro fund, partly paid for by industry, to improve public transport or upgrade fleets to electric buses.
Meanwhile, car makers like Volkswagen, BMW and Daimler have struck a cooperative tone in the wake of VW’s “dieselgate” scandal, which saw it manipulate 11” million vehicles worldwide to fool regulators’ emissions tests.
The firms have so far offered only updates to engine control software to reduce emissions, but a court decision in favour of diesel bans could up the pressure on them to provide hardware fixes to more-polluting cars.
A refit to the more than nine million cars built before September 2015, when the latest Euro 6 emissions standards came into force, would cost at least 7.6 billion euros, a study by analysts at Evercore bank found last week.
Car companies have already seen the market share for diesel vehicles in Germany plunge from 48 per cent in 2015 to around 39 per cent last year.