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VW CEO cannot defend ‘clean’ diesels while saying the fuel is history

The CEO of Volkswagen, Matthias Müller, has heralded a new era by saying that diesel belongs in the past and suggesting all tax breaks for the fuel be cut. It is a sharp about-turn from comments he made in September about diesel’s “great future”.

Reacting to Mr Müller’s suggestion, ClientEarth clean air lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “There is enormous significance in this vote of no confidence in diesel, from one of the biggest figures in the industry. But this is not radical thinking, it is purely logical – and it’s late.

“For too long the evidence has been there that diesel vehicles pollute the air and harm people’s health and nothing has been done. Diesel is rapidly losing popularity in Europe, as consumers become aware of its negative health impacts.

“Now that the industry also seems to be turning its back on this old technology, governments must quickly put an end to subsidies that are artificially keeping diesel in Europe alive.”

In defence of diesel?

But while VW seems to be prompting a move forward, Müller also tried to front a defence of new, ‘clean’ diesel vehicles, arguing that they have a future on the road. ClientEarth’s lawyers strongly dispute this, based on plentiful evidence to the contrary.

Taddei responded: “We disagree with Mr Müller’s suggestion that newer diesel vehicles should have a blanket exemption from urban traffic bans. Data shows that even the newest Euro 6 vehicles can emit up to 12 times the legal limit of nitrogen oxides (NOx) on the roads. In order to improve air quality in our cities and protect people’s health, authorities should only exempt diesel vehicles that respect emissions limits in real-world conditions.”

Along with Germany’s own Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH), ClientEarth has launched legal action in ten German cities, and as an outcome courts in Düsseldorf, Munich and Stuttgart have ordered the introduction of drastic restrictions on diesel vehicles. A court hearing before the German Federal Administrative Court in February will be a major deciding factor in if and how these bans will come into effect.

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