The car industry is resisting the European Commission's attempt to crack down on NOx emissions that are as much as seven times the legal limit on average. File picture: Patrick Pleul / EPA.

Berlin - German Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks called on Wednesday for tougher emissions regulations and tests to be implemented urgently due to the diesel emissions scandal at German carmaker Volkswagen .

Volkswagen admitted last month that it had installed software in diesel vehicles to deceive US regulators about the true level of their toxic emissions, leading to a backlash against diesel motors.

The European Commission wants to tighten vehicle testing and European government officials met last week to try to unlock a stalemate over plans to introduce real-world measurements of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions rather than rely on easily manipulated lab tests. Real-world NOx testing is due to begin early next year, with its results coming into play in late 2017.

Hendricks, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD), junior coalition partner to Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, said the details of implementation, especially emission limits, needed to be agreed upon as soon as possible.

“And they need to be so exacting that diesel will really be cleaner due to them,” she said.

She said independent tests should be conducted by authorities but manufacturers would have to pay for them.


The car industry is resisting the European Commission's attempt to crack down on NOx emissions that are as much as seven times the legal limit on average.

“Companies need to learn that in the long-term they can't evade environmental protection, which is necessary,” she said.

Economy Minister Sigmar Gabriel warned against condemning diesel technology as a whole but said more people should switch to alternatives and incentives should be introduced to reduce the price difference between electric and conventional cars.

Hendricks and Gabriel, who leads the SPD, both called for a binding quota for electric cars, with Hendricks also calling for a government subsidy for buying such vehicles.

The German Finance Ministry criticised the 'e-car' subsidy proposal and sees buying incentives as problematic, saying that free rider effects could be expected.

Diesel vehicles have been encouraged in some European markets because they can produce less carbon dioxide - a major greenhouse gas - than gasoline vehicles. However, they can also produce higher levels of NOx, which are harmful to human health.

Hendricks said she would not “demonise” diesel technology because it was more energy-efficient than petrol engines but added that Germany's climate protection goals would not be in danger if the market share of diesel engines were to be smaller.

“Diesel engines only have a future if the industry can prove that it can make them really clean,” she said, adding that this should apply to all diesel-powered vehicles from small cars to sport utility vehicles.

Hendricks also said that municipalities should, in future, be able to prevent vehicles from going on the road if the level of nitrous oxides they emitted was too high.

She said it was a “bitter irony of the VW scandal” that the money which Volkswagen is widely expected to have to pay out in fines could have been used to finance the introduction of millions of electric cars.