German carmakers are meeting the government on Wednesday seeking solutions for the diesel sector damaged by scandals over emissions test cheating.
The aim is to find ways to cut emissions and head off moves by some large cities to ban diesel vehicles.
The government has been accused of not doing enough to crack down on pollution, and of being too close to the car industry.
Executives from all the main German carmakers – Volkswagen, BMW, Daimler, Audi and Porsche as well as the American manufacturer Ford – are taking part in the “national forum” in Berlin, almost two years after the scandal broke over Volkswagen’s diesel emissions.
Car sales dipped after revelations that VW – which also sells Audi and Porsche cars – had equipped 11 million vehicles with software designed to cheat in tests.
Ministers are wary of damaging an industry that provides a fifth of the country’s exports and provides around 800,000 jobs.
Both government and industry sources have said carmakers will probably be spared making costly hardware changes to engines and instead may be asked to carry out software updates to around two million vehicles.
In recent years, carmakers have invested heavily in diesel technology, counting on it to help meet rules on lowering carbon dioxide emissions.
But the emissions crisis led to revelations that most manufacturers release far more toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx) on the road than in laboratory tests.
An estimated 15 million diesel cars on Germany’s roads contribute around 40 percent to NOx pollution in major cities – according to research by one environmental lobby group, the DUH.
It achieved victory last week when a court in Stuttgart said driving restrictions were justified to safeguard health, paving the way for the city described as the cradle of Germany’s car industry to ban diesel cars from its streets.
The stakes have been raised in recent weeks, with France and the UK announcing plans eventually to ban all diesel and petrol vehicles. Meanwhile European regulators are investigating top carmakers BMW, Daimler, Audi, Porsche and VW for alleged anti-competitive collusion.