German city of Stuttgart seeks to avert Euro-5 diesel ban

FRANKFURT (Reuters) - The German city of Stuttgart will bar only the most polluting diesel vehicles from its streets next year and will seek to avoid a widening of the ban by taking measures to improve air quality, a state ministry said.

Stuttgart, the heartland of Germany’s automotive industry, plans to start banning diesel vehicles meeting the Euro-4 or older emissions standards from January 2019, the state ministry of Baden-Wuerttemberg said on Wednesday.

“We want to avoid bans on Euro-5 diesels with a comprehensive package of clean air measures,” said Andreas Schwarz, leader of the Greens’ parliamentary group in the Baden-Wuerttemberg regional assembly.

But he also said the city’s clean-air measures, such as an expansion of public transportation and electric mobility, would need to have a sufficient effect on pollution levels.

There has been a global backlash against diesel-engine cars since Volkswagen VOWG_p.DE admitted in 2015 to cheating U.S. exhaust tests, meant to limit emissions of particulate matter and nitrogen oxide (NOx).

Dozens of German cities including Hamburg, Munich and Stuttgart exceed European Union limits on NOx, which is known to cause respiratory diseases.

If by mid-2019 it does not look like the measures Stuttgart has taken to improve air quality will bring its NOx levels within the legal limits, the ban could be widened to Euro-5 diesels in January 2020, the Baden-Wuerttemberg ministry said.

Germany’s top administrative court ruled in February in favor of allowing major cities to ban heavily polluting diesel cars.

Soon after, Hamburg became the first German city to ban diesel cars that do not meet the latest Euro-6 standards from some busy streets, seeking to raise pressure on carmakers to undertake costly retrofits.

A regional court in Stuttgart had demanded last month the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg, home to carmakers Mercedes-Benz and VW unit Porsche, draw up a firm plan for when it will ban Euro-5 diesels.

Bans on diesel vehicles from city centers are also planned in Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens by 2025, while the mayor of Copenhagen wants to bar new diesel cars from entering the city center as soon as next year.

Reporting by Ilona Wissenbach; Writing by Maria Sheahan; Editing by Catherine Evans