‘Germans are not tired of cars’: Number of vehicles on roads continues to rise

Despite growing calls for more people to turn to public transport or cycling, cars still seem to be a favourable option among Germans.

'Germans are not tired of cars': Number of vehicles on roads continues to rise
A busy road near Hamburg on May 29th. Photo: DPA

German roads are busier than ever with an increasing amount of cars, according to new figures.

The number of cars registered in Germany's 20 largest cities grew last year. In total, there were 620,193 more cars on the roads in Germany in 2019 (a total of 47,715,977 recorded on January 1st 2020) than in the previous year.

That's according to the Center Automotive Research (CAR) in Duisburg which analysed registration figures, reported the Süddeutsche Zeitung on Friday.

In Munich the number of cars in the city grew by 14,554 between 2018 and 2019, an increase of two percent.  The number of registered cars also went up in Berlin (plus 0.9 percent), Hamburg (plus 1.2 percent), Cologne (plus 1.7 percent) and Frankfurt (plus 1.2 percent).

READ ALSO: Eight things you never knew about the German Autobahn

The same phenomenon can be observed over the past 10 years: in Munich, for example, the number of passenger cars has grown by 21 percent, or 128,000 vehicles between 2009 and 2020.

Even in the cycling city of Münster, the number of cars has grown by 19 percent since 2009.

Ferdinand Dudenhöffer from CAR expects further growth of car ownership in Germany, albeit at a slower pace in view of the coronavirus epidemic. Germans are not “tired of cars”, he said.

Struggling car manufacturers will be happy to hear it – however pro-environment campaigners and city dwellers struggling with air pollution may not be so positive.

For automotive expert Dudenhöffer, however, the solution is not to ban cars from cities, but to make them “more compatible with the city's requirements” –  to “reconcile them with the city”, he said.

READ ALSO: How our readers feel about imposing a speed limit on Germany's Autobahn

Dudenhöffer said this means changing to electric cars when possible.

But “safety-oriented technologies”, such as driver assistance systems that prevent crashes, must also be introduced more.

Traffic expert Christian Hochfeld from the Agora Verkehrswende told the Süddeutsche Zeitung that the increasing number of cars on the roads could be down to the older generation driving more than ever.

In contrast, younger people between the ages of 20 and 40 own fewer cars than before, Hochfeld said.

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EXPLAINED: What to know about driving in low emissions zones in Germany

There are a total of 56 low emissions zones in Germany and they’re not all in big cities. There are rules for which type of car can enter them and not following them could get you smacked with a sizable fine.

EXPLAINED: What to know about driving in low emissions zones in Germany

What are low-emissions zones?

Low-emission zones – or Umweltzone in German – are areas in which only vehicles that comply with certain exhaust emission standards are allowed to drive. They aren’t just in Germany, but can be found all over Europe.

READ ALSO: Low emission zones: What you need to know if you’re driving in Europe

Since 2008, German cities have had the power to designate low-emission zones, and decide which zones vehicles with stickers are allowed to enter.

Where are the low emissions zones in Germany?

There are currently 56 low emissions zones in Germany that require motorists to have an emissions-class sticker displayed on their windshield to enter.

You can find the whole list of Umweltzone here, which includes city centres such as Berlin, Munich, Frankfurt am Main, Cologne and Düsseldorf.

If you’re planning a road trip in Germany, it’s best to check ahead online to find out if you’ll be driving into one of these areas as, though there will be signs dotted around, they’re easy to miss and not seeing them won’t be an excuse if you encounter the police!

Driving into a low-emissions zone without a sticker – even if you have a low-emissions vehicle – comes with a fine of €80 if you’re caught.

Which sticker do I need?

This sticker you need is called eine Umweltplakette (an environment sticker) or eine Feinstaubplakette (emissions sticker).

For 55 of the 56 emissions zones in Germany, you need a green sticker. This can be given to gasoline vehicles with a regulated catalytic converter and diesel vehicles (Euro 6, Euro 5, Euro 4, Euro 3 with a particulate filter) as long as their exhaust emission values correspond to pollutant group 4.

A hand reaches for a green environmental badge on a car in Hanover.

A hand reaches for a green environmental badge on a car in Hanover. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Peter Steffen

But don’t worry if you don’t know which value your vehicle has – you can find it in the vehicle’s registration documents.

The only low-emissions zone in Germany which still allows vehicles with a yellow sticker to enter is in Neu-Ulm, and the yellow sticker is only issued to diesel vehicles of the Euro 3 or 2 standard with a particulate filter.

Where can I get the green sticker for my car?

Emissions stickers are generally quite easy to come by in Germany and can be purchased locally at most mechanics, vehicle inspection and registration offices or from numerous providers on the Internet which can then be sent out by post. The cost of a sticker ranges from €5 to around €18.

You can buy stickers online from TÜV SÜD here or from TÜV-NORD here

Can I convert my yellow sticker to a green one? 

If you have a yellow sticker, you may be able to fit your car with a particulate filter to be able to qualify for a green sticker. 

What about if I’m driving a foreign vehicle in Germany?

Driving bans in low-emission zones also apply to vehicles registered outside of Germany and foreign vehicles need to have the green sticker when driving into them to avoid getting a fine.

Owners of foreign vehicles can get their stickers in the same way as German car owners, by purchasing one online or going to a mechanic or vehicle inspection office.

READ ALSO: Driving in Germany: Eight German road signs that confuse foreigners

There, they will be able to give you your sticker after checking your vehicle registration documents – even if they’re in another language – as the emissions numbers are what counts. 

Are the stickers valid everywhere?

Stickers are valid in every environmental zone in Germany and not only in one area. With a green sticker on the vehicle, you can drive into all cities in Germany. 

However, there are some other exceptions to be wary of.

A few cities in Germany have also introduced diesel driving bans due to excessive exhaust pollution. This means that diesel cars – even with the green sticker – won’t aren’t allowed to drive into certain areas. Some areas of Munich, Hamburg, Mainz, Frankfurt and Stuttgart currently have such a ban in effect and you can find out exactly where here

READ ALSO: Munich introduces diesel driving ban in city centre

What about motorbikes?

Good news for two-wheelers: only four-wheeled vehicles need to display an emissions sticker in Germany.