File photo: Michael Probst / AP

Stuttgart, Germany - Almost three million Mercedes Benz diesels have been recalled amid concerns over toxic emissions. The company says it is taking the step to reassure drivers and strengthen confidence in diesel technology.

In a drastic move that casts fresh doubt over the future of the fuel, the cars and vans will be given a software update. This one-hour procedure will cut their output of nitrogen oxides, which are linked to respiratory disease.

The recall covers nearly all diesel Mercedes Benz vehicles made under the EU5 and EU6 emissions standards and registered across Europe over the past six years; it will start in the next few weeks. The company says it will cost would cost 220 million (R3.28 billion), but that customers won't pay anything.

Calls for diesel bans 

Diesels have been under a cloud since Daimler's competitor Volkswagen admitted equipping vehicles with illegal software that meant they passed emissions tests, but then exceeded limits in everyday driving. There has been a push for diesel bans in some German cities because of concerns about levels of nitrogen oxide emitted by diesels.

A previous voluntary recall in March addressed concerns about 274 000 Mercedes-Benz compact cars and V-Class vans.

The company said in May German investigators had searched its offices in connection with investigations of Daimler employees because of suspicion of fraud and criminal advertising relating to the possible manipulation of exhaust controls in cars with diesel engines and suspicions over the reported emissions of two Mercedes Benz engines resulted in Daimler executives being summoned to meet officials in Berlin last week.

Addressing uncerrtainty

Daimler chief executive Dieter Zetsche said on Tuesday: "The public debate about diesel engines is creating uncertainty - especially for our customers. We have therefore decided on additional measures to reassure drivers of diesel cars and to strengthen confidence in diesel technology."

He stressed that it did not spell the end of its production of diesel engine cars and vans; however, Volvo has announced plans to move toward electric engines and France plans to ban sales of diesel and petrol cars by 2040.

Zetsche added: "We are convinced that diesel engines will continue to be a fixed element of the drive-system mix, not least due to their low CO2 emissions."

Daimler also stressed on Tuesday night that the problem was not the same as at Volkswagen, which has had to recall millions of cars to remove software that helped it cheat diesel emissions tests.

Daily Mail, Associated Press