On 1 January 2008, the Scarlet Letter effect will start shaming drivers of polluting vehicles in German cities which are implementing an eco-zone to reduce pollutants to below EU standards. Vehicles which pollute too much to rate at least a red sticker in the red-yellow-green system will be banned altogether. Auto clubs predicted chaos as German drivers delayed ordering their windshield stickers. But it is worse than they could have imagined: tens of thousands of German drivers are learning that their action to meet the law's requirements are in vain. They are victims of an astounding filter fraud.How did it happen? All the details are not yet clear, but the story starts with the certification the German Kraftfahrtbundesamt (KBA, or Automobile Agency) granted to filter suppliers GAT, Tenneco and Bosal. More recent tests indicated the filters, which must reduce emissions at least 30%, were performing at only 8% or even barely working at all. The KBA acted by revoking the certifications for various models and is now working to find a way to protect the consumers from the impacts of this decision. A fraud investigation is being launched, with suspicions being voiced that manufacturers submitted different filters for certification from those which were ultimately sold.
What does it mean to the auto owner? First, autos with the pollution-reducing upgrade are not eligible for the 330€ tax rebate many owners calculated into their installation decision. Furthermore, the vehicle is not eligible for the windshield sticker which will allow continued use, or even parking, under the eco-zone restrictions. The KBA is working on a compromise to allow consumers who upgraded early to still claim the tax rebate if they replace their defective filter quickly. Furthermore, negotiations with partners in the supply chain are ongoing to ensure that the individuals affected in this scandal will not bear the costs to replace their faulty filters.
For interested readers, Germany's approach to controlling problems from traffic in congested cities can be compared to measures taken in London, or check out the discussions at the TreeHugger forums on Car-Free Cities.
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