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VOL. 42 | NO. 42 | Friday, October 19, 2018

Germany wants automakers to pay up as more diesel bans loom

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BERLIN (AP) — The German government is putting pressure on the country's automakers to fix diesel cars with excessive emissions, in a bid to placate drivers angered by the prospect of diesel driving bans in major cities.

Chancellor Angela Merkel's Cabinet agreed on a series of measures Wednesday that includes upgrades for older vehicles affected by the diesel scandal , so they can stay on the road in cities such as Hamburg, Berlin, Stuttgart and Frankfurt.

"It's not acceptable that that the auto industry is paying a lot of money in America , but makes a huge fuss over a few hundred euros (dollars) here," Merkel said at an election rally in the state of Hesse late Tuesday.

The German transport ministry has said it believes about 2.2 million cars can be upgraded. The government is also offering financial incentives to small businesses and local authorities to replace particularly polluting vehicles with cleaner models, so that overall emission levels are respected.

Merkel's unusually harsh words toward Germany's powerful auto industry came ahead of a ruling Wednesday in the western city of Mainz, where a regional court became the latest to consider whether a ban on diesel-powered cars is permissible to prevent air pollution in the city.

Diesel vehicles are a significant source of nitrogen oxides, or NOx, which can be harmful to human health. The Mainz administrative court decided Wednesday that the city would have to prepare to implement a ban on older diesel vehicles by Sept. 1, 2019, if NOx levels cannot be reduced by then.

The newly announced measures by Merkel's Cabinet will apply to 15 German cities that significantly exceed the European Union's limit of 40 micrograms of NOx per cubic meter. Another 50 cities in the country are just above the EU threshold.

Merkel's party and her coalition allies, the Social Democrats, are projected to face steep losses in the Hesse state election on Sunday, while the environmentalist Green party has seen a surge in opinion polls in recent weeks.

Ferdinand Dudenhoeffer, one of Germany's best-known auto industry analysts, called the government's new measures "a transparent election campaign maneuver for the Hesse vote."

He told the daily Rheinische Post that Merkel had known about the problem of excessively high NOx emissions since 2010, but refrained from doing anything about it.

The government announced its measures on the same day a court in Stuttgart, Germany, ruled Volkswagen's parent company, Porsche SE, must pay investors 47 million euros ($53.5 million) for not making timely disclosure of its 2015 diesel emissions scandal, in which Volkswagen rigged cars to cheat on diesel emissions tests.

Porsche SE said it would appeal and that the claims were "without merit."

Revelations about Volkswagen's emissions cheating led to closer scrutiny of diesels in general. Numerous automakers' cars were found to often emit more pollutants in regular driving than in testing because manufacturers exploited loopholes allowing them to turn off emissions controls to avoid engine damage in certain circumstances. Testing procedures were tightened as of Sept. 1 to more closely reflect real-life emissions.

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Associated Press writer David McHugh in Frankfurt, Germany, contributed to this report.

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