By Markus Wacket and Ilona Wissenbach
LEIPZIG/FRANKFURT, Germany (Reuters)
German cities can ban the most heavily polluting diesel cars from their streets, a court ruled on Tuesday, a move that could accelerate a shift away from the combustion engine and force manufacturers to pay to improve exhaust systems
The court said Stuttgart, which styles itself the birthplace of the modern automobile and is home to Mercedes-maker Daimler, should consider gradually imposing a year-round ban for older diesel models, while Duesseldorf should also think about curbs.
Many other German cities exceed European Union limits on nitrogen oxide (NOx), known to cause respiratory disease. After the ruling, the northern city of Hamburg said it would start to implement limits on diesel vehicles from the end of April.
There has been a global backlash against diesel-engine cars since leading German carmaker Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating U.S. exhaust tests.
The scandal has spread across the industry and boosted investment in electric vehicles
Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centres by 2025, while the mayor of Copenhagen wants to ban new diesel cars from entering the city as soon as next year. France and Britain will ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.
Bans in the home of some of the world’s biggest automakers are a further blow for the sector, and an embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, which has faced criticism for its close ties to the industry.
Germany has long promoted diesel to help cut carbon dioxide emissions and meet climate change goals, but the country now fears a shift away from the combustion engine could endanger hundreds of thousands of jobs.
The ruling was praised by environmental groups but angered many politicians and business lobbies who said millions of drivers might end up unable to use or sell vehicles they bought in good faith.
“Driving bans have a massive impact on our ownership rights, on mobility and on our profession,” said Hans Peter Wollseifer, president of the association of German tradesmen. “The carmakers are to blame for the diesel problem, not us tradesmen.”
The VDA auto industry lobby took comfort from the fact the court had not insisted on bans. “It is a rejection of general driving bans … They must be proportional and only considered as a last resort,” the VDA’s Matthias Wissmann said in a statement.
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