At a conference with regulators this week, German automakers BMW, Daimler, and Volkswagen agreed to offer upgrades on nearly 5 million diesel models in an attempt to reduce nitrous oxide emissions by at least 25 percent. They will also offer trade-in deals to customers who own older diesel vehicles. By doing this, they hope to avoid driving bans that have been threatened in several cities around Europe.
Reportedly, these changes will improve emissions without hurting fuel economy, acceleration, or reliability. Plus, by upgrading software on newer diesels and getting older ones off the street, the automakers will also potentially avoid having to pay for expensive hardware changes.
“Our goal is to improve diesel rather than ban it,” Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche told Bloomberg. “As long as e-cars still have a small market share, optimizing diesel is the most effective lever to reach climate targets in road transport.”
Volkswagen will reportedly recall 3.8 million vehicles for upgrades, while Daimler will recall 900,000, and BMW will recall 300,000. But don’t think diesel is safe just yet. “Today’s agreement is not yet enough,” Barbara Hendricks, Germany’s Environment Minister, said to reporters. “Software updates won’t completely resolve diesel’s NOx problem.”
There’s also still the issue of customer perception to consider. Not long ago, German automakers had built a reputation for selling refined diesel vehicles that were also incredibly fuel-efficient. But when news broke in September 2015 that Volkswagen had installed emissions-cheating software on millions of diesel vehicles, that reputation was severely damaged.
But Volkswagen may not have been the only German automaker cheating on its diesel emissions. One newspaper even accused BMW, Daimler, and the Volkswagen Group of colluding to dodge emissions standards.
Arndt Ellinghorst, a London-based analyst expressed a similar concern to Bloomberg. “What the agreement doesn’t do is restore consumer confidence in diesel engines,” he said. “Two years into the VW diesel scandal, having learned about the shortcomings of bench emission testing and ways to trick the system, consumers rightly demand new technologies.”
In the United States, meanwhile, Volkswagen finally received approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to begin repairs on its cheating 2.0-liter diesel engines.