BERLIN (Reuters) - The German lower house of parliament on Thursday passed a law exempting certain vehicles from driving bans for older diesel vehicles, and giving cities leeway to skip bans if their nitrogen oxide levels were close to meeting European limits.
German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze said the law, which will be considered on Friday by the upper house of parliament, was aimed at incentivising hardware retrofits by providing legal certainty to carmakers and vehicle owners.
“To improve air quality we need hardware retrofits,” Schulze said in a statement. The new law “exempts diesel vehicles from driving bans nationwide if they have efficient hardware retrofits.”
Carmakers have been forced to consider upgrading exhaust treatment systems on older cars after German cities started banning heavily polluting diesel vehicles to cut pollution from fine particulate matter and toxic nitrogen oxides.
The new law exempts so-called Euro-4 and Euro-5 diesel cars from driving bans if they emit less than 270 mg of nitrogen oxide per km, a value the ministry said could be achieved by carrying out retrofits to be paid for by the carmakers.
In addition, the law provides exemptions from driving bans for Euro-6 diesel cars, retrofitted vehicles used by tradesman or for deliveries, and for vehicles operated by local governments and private industry.
The law also makes clear that driving bans are not needed in areas where the NO2 levels are below 50 mg per cubic meter, since it was assumed that software updates, fleet renewals and other measures would reduce those levels to the European limit of 40 mg per cubic meter in the foreseeable future.
Germany in December cleared legal hurdles for carmakers to upgrade filtering systems for exhaust emissions on older diesel cars as a way to avoid vehicle bans, but manufacturers and suppliers have remained sceptical about such retrofits.
The fight over driving bans and retrofits is the latest fallout from an emissions cheating scandal triggered by Volkswagen in 2015 after it admitted systematically hiding illegal pollution levels from regulators.
Carmakers want customers to buy new cars with cleaner engines, while environmentalists and consumer groups have argued that retrofitting older vehicles may be more cost-effective.
Carmakers are divided over who will pay the retrofit costs, given that most older diesel cars met clean air rules at the time when they were sold.
Volkswagen and Daimler announced they would cover some retrofit costs, while rival BMW has refused, only proposing incentives to trade in old vehicles for new ones.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Editing by Alexandra Hudson