May 17, 2018 / 11:36 AM / a year ago

German minister tells carmakers to speed up diesel refits

BERLIN (Reuters) - German Environment Minister Svenja Schulze urged carmakers to speed up technical refits of diesel cars to improve air quality after the European Commission said on Thursday it was taking the country to court for failing to respect air quality limits.

Svenja Schulze, designated German Environment Minister of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) poses during a news conference at the party headquarters in Berlin, Germany, March 9, 2018. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke

The European Commission has decided to take France, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Romania and Britain to the EU Court of Justice over the issue.

“If we are to survive in court, we need more and faster progress to make the air clean,” Schulze said in a statement. “We need (refits for diesel) as soon as possible and at the expense of carmakers as they caused the problem,” she added.

German carmaker Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to installing secret software in hundreds of thousands of U.S. diesel cars to cheat exhaust emissions tests and make them appear cleaner.

The scandal, also known as Dieselgate, led to a regulatory crackdown that is threatening thousands of jobs as customers increasingly shun diesel-powered cars.

Schulze, a member of the center-left Social Democrats, said the Commission’s decision showed that the government had to change it strategy.

“To hope that the problem will be solved by itself - as some apparently do - is now no longer an option,” she warned.

Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives are more cautious, though, warning that it would not be wise to make the car cover the whole cost of refits as this would weaken their ability to invest in greener technologies.

Merkel told lawmakers on Wednesday that the government had a responsibility to tell the industry that it had to restore trust. But she opposed calls to further increase the burden on carmakers to retrofit vehicles that produce excessive emissions.

Merkel also called for Europe to support the development of the battery and software technologies needed if electric vehicles become the cars of the future, since otherwise Europe risks losing its manufacturing abilities to Asia and North America.

Reporting by Madeline Chambers and Michael Nienaber; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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