German automaker Daimler will voluntarily recall 3 million Mercedes-Benz brand cars with diesel engines in Europe to improve their emissions performance, the company said Tuesday in the wake of widespread public debate over the future of diesel.
The Stuttgart-based company said it was taking the step to reassure drivers and strengthen confidence in the technology.
Diesels have been under a cloud since Daimler's competitor Volkswagen admitted equipping vehicles with illegal software that meant they passed emissions tests, but then exceeded limits in everyday driving. There has been a push for diesel bans in some German cities because of concerns about levels of nitrogen oxide emitted by diesels.
"The public debate about diesel engines is creating uncertainty — especially for our customers," Daimler CEO Dieter Zetsche said.
He said in a statement that "we have therefore decided on additional measures to reassure drivers of diesel cars and to strengthen confidence in diesel technology."
The recall will cover nearly all vehicles made under the EU5 and EU6 emissions standards and will start in the next few weeks. The company said it would cost 220 million euros ($254.2 million), but that customers wouldn't pay anything.
The recall expands a smaller, ongoing recall offered to owners of compact-class and Mercedes-Benz V-Class vehicles. It said the fix would involve a software update and would draw on knowledge gained through the development of the company's new family of diesel engines.
Mercedes has no plans to extend the action beyond Europe.
Daimler said in May that German investigators had searched its offices in connection with investigations of Daimler employees because of suspicion of fraud and criminal advertising relating to the possible manipulation of exhaust controls in cars with diesel engines. The company has said it is cooperating with the investigation.
The company was also asked by the U.S. Justice Department in April of 2016 to conduct an internal probe into its exhaust emissions certification process. Mercedes spokesman Robert Moran in the U.S. said the internal investigation is ongoing. The company has stopped trying to get its diesel cars certified by the Environmental Protection Agency for use in the U.S., but continues to sell the 2017 model diesel Sprinter commercial vehicles. The Justice Department and EPA would not comment.
The Daimler announcement came hours after the regional government in the company's home region of Baden-Wuerttemburg agreed to abandon proposals to restrict diesels if older diesels could be fixed to pollute less, the dpa news agency reported.
The current debate over diesel was launched in September 2015 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice of violation against Volkswagen. VW has said it used illegal engine-control software that detected when cars were on test stands. Emission controls were turned up during testing and turned down during regular driving.
About 11 million cars worldwide were equipped with the software. The company pleaded guilty in the U.S. to criminal charges, eight executives were charged, and it agreed to pay more than $20 billion in criminal penalties and civil settlements.