Almost 30 years ago, Volkswagen ads introduced the German term fahrvergnuegen to communicate driving enjoyment. But now, because of its cheating on diesel emissions tests, VW has unwittingly helped introduce a new, less flattering term: fahrverbote, or driving ban.
Driving bans loom in Europe as governments in Germany, France and the U.K. crack down on toxic nitrogen oxide emissions from diesels, leaving brands such as VW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo at risk because they have strategically bet on the powertrain to meet tougher carbon dioxide emissions rules that start to take effect in 2020.
Diesel engines have been a popular European consumer preference. But now, the industry strategy is in jeopardy.
The growing anti-diesel sentiment will make it harder for automakers to meet the European Union's fleet CO2 target of 95 grams per kilometer. Diesels are about 20 percent more fuel efficient than gasoline engines, so they are key to most manufacturers' CO2-reduction strategies. Automakers that miss their CO2 targets face stiff fines.
But demand for diesels, which held steady in the immediate aftermath of VW's scandal, is starting to crumble because of intensifying public scrutiny of the technology, especially in Germany. Stuttgart, the cradle of Germany's auto industry, could even prevent 3-year-old diesels from entering the city limits on certain days starting next year. Following a court order this year, Munich likely will be the next to institute a ban.
That news had an immediate sales effect: Diesels accounted for just 40 percent of Germany's new-car sales in March, down from 45.8 percent a year earlier and a high of 48.1 percent in 2012.