Almost 30 years ago Volkswagen advertisements introduced the term Fahrvergnuegen, German for driving enjoyment. Because of its cheating on diesel-emissions tests, VW has unwittingly helped to introduce a new, less flattering term into the world’s vocabulary: Fahrverbote (driving bans).
Driving bans loom in Europe as governments in Germany, France and the UK crack down on toxic nitrogen oxide emissions from diesels, leaving brands such as VW, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo at risk because they have bet heavily on the powertrain to meet tougher CO2 emissions rules that start to take effect in 2020.
The growing anti-diesel sentiment will make it harder for automakers to meet the EU'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.
Demand for diesels, which held steady in the immediate aftermath of VW's scandal, is starting to crumble because of intensifying pressure on the powertrain, 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.
Munich will likely be the next to institute a ban following a court order at the end of February. The bad news had a quick effect: diesels accounted for just 40 percent of Germany's new-car sales in March, compared with 45.8 percent last year and a high of 48.1 percent in 2012.
"It was a catastrophe," a senior German industry official said about the steep decline in March. "The first thing we need to do is get away from this debate over Fahrverbote." The official added that any solution to retroactively clean up Euro 5 diesels won't be found until after Germany's national election in September.
In Europe, the diesel share fell to 46 percent in the first three months of this year from 50 percent during the first quarter of 2016, according to data from JATO Dynamics, as other governments joined Germany in cracking down on the powertrain. For example, London's mayor said in mid-February that owners of pre-Euro 4 diesels will face an extra 10-pound "toxicity charge" when entering the city center starting in October.