India’s smog thwarts carmakers’ plans

With the Indian capital New Delhi choking in the smog, the municipal government is taking action against diesel vehicles. German carmakers in particular will face more obstacles in the future. As Frederic Spohr in Bangkok reports, other cities could soon take similar action.

The Indian capital taking the war against smog up a level by regulating the approval of diesel vehicles on the streets of New Delhi. (Image credit: Mark Danielson, flickr)

The Indian capital taking the war against smog up a level by regulating the approval of diesel vehicles on the streets of New Delhi. (Image credit: Mark Danielson, flickr)

It smells as though someone has set fire to a wet newspaper. Anyone who walks through New Delhi experiences a constant acrid smell in their nose as somewhat distant buildings disappear from view in the haze.

India’s capital has a smog problem – and it’s worse than the problem in the Chinese capital Beijing. Last year the World Health Organization labelled New Delhi the metropolis with the highest air pollution in the world.

Supreme court bars diesel cars

Until now the authorities have hardly taken any countermeasures – even a warning system did not exist. But now things are moving.

The Supreme Court rules this week that diesel vehicles with a capacity of 2 litres or more may no longer be registered in the country’s capital city and the greater Delhi metropolitan area until the end of March.

“The rich cannot be allowed to buy luxurious and expensive diesel vehicles and thus pollute the air,” the court announced.

German carmakers are affected

This is hitting German carmakers particularly hard with their specialisation in diesel vehicles. All the more so as their range consists of especially large, luxurious vehicles.

Daimler currently offers only two diesel vehicles with a capacity of more than 2 litres on its Indian website, and they are responding with outrage: “This ban on diesel engines creates an environment of uncertainty and will affect our expansion plans and future investments,” said the company.

Boom threatened

Until now, German carmakers have enjoyed a good business in India.

The luxury market is still small, but it is growing in double digits – and it is firmly in the hands of German carmakers like Mercedes, Audi and BMW with 90 per cent of the market share.

But the smog is threatening the entire industry. After the court’s decision, shares in the Indian manufacturer Mahindra fell by more than 5 per cent, and people are already thinking about developing an interim engine.

No wonder: New Delhi is one of the most important luxury markets in India, where some manufacturers make over a fifth of their sales.

Analysts fear that a similar ban in other Indian metropolitans could follow – even if it is controversial that diesel vehicles actually contribute to air pollution. In fact, dust and heating fires contribute far more in the northern winters.

Automobile industry targeted

The municipal government, on the other hand, sees vehicular traffic as the greatest evil: in addition to banning the entrance of large diesel vehicles, authorities have put further measures into effect: from 1 January onwards, only private vehicles will be allowed to drive every second day.


Image credit: Mark Danielson, flickr/Creative Commons

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