COMMENT: Unfiltered diesel emissions -- virtually unsaleable

Franz W. Rother is Editor-in-Chief of Automobilwoche

APPROXIMATELY 90 PERCENT OF PRIVATE CUSTOMERS order their new Mercedes E-class with a soot particulate filter nowadays. Almost 100 percent of Ford's diesel-equipped C-Max minivans are fitted with a filter.

The situation will be fairly similar with Opel's Astra and Vectra models. Recently introduced models with the new 1.9 liter CDTI engine will have standard particulate filters.

Customers rarely have a choice with the French PSA Group. Most of their diesel autos -- even small cars -- are automatically fitted with filters.

One does not have to be a prophet to predict that a used diesel auto without soot filter will be virtually unsaleable in Germany in five years time. Auto buyers have a suspicion this might be the case and most managers within the European automobile industry also know that.

The situation was similar in the 1980s. Back then the European auto industry persistently refused using three-way catalytic converters, the best possible way of filtering exhaust emissions. It was already a standard in the US and Japan. After two years of debate, a decision by EU environment ministers and the introduction of tax relief for low-emission cars paved the way for the spread of catalytic-converter technology.

Similar tax relief should be introduced at the beginning of 2005 to push diesel filters -- when the tax relief for cars with catalytic converters will run out after 20 years. The planned tax relief of an average of 600 euros should compensate for the additional costs for the complicated filter system. The retrofitting of older diesel models with a particle filter should be rewarded with 300 euros.

Some auto dealers are already including these figures in their sales talk. Several suppliers are preparing for a rush of customers.

But they did not reckon with Bernd Pischetsrieder. In a letter, the VW chief recently warned the SPD leader and parliamentary-group chairman Franz Muentefering against introducing tax relief for soot filters. He said that insisting on one specific method would give an advantage to foreign car manufacturers and would pose a risk to thousands of German jobs.

Similar arguments were used against the catalytic converter 20 years ago. Pischetsrieder certainly does the German auto industry a disservice.

VDA president Bernd Gottschalk is currently trying to convince the Chinese government of German manufacturers' total technological competence when it comes to finding solutions for environmental problems. At the same time in Germany the head of the largest German automaker tries to stand in the way of a technology that promises a fast and effective solution for the soot particulate problem.

It remains Pischetsrieder's secret how he plans to enthuse the Chinese and the Americans for diesel technology nevertheless.

His letter shows his own shortcomings. Despite the subject having been discussed for the past year the VW Group won't be able to offer a wide range of diesel cars with filters until 2006. This makes the reason for Pischetsrieder's actions very obvious.

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