German cities can ban the most heavily polluting diesel cars from their streets, a court ruled on Tuesday.
This was in a move that could accelerate a shift away from the combustion engine and force manufacturers to pay to improve exhaust systems.
The court said Stuttgart, which styles itself the birthplace of the modern automobile and is home to Mercedes-maker Daimler, should consider gradually imposing a year-round ban for older diesel models, while Duesseldorf should also think about curbs.
Many other German cities exceed European Union limits on nitrogen oxide (NOx), known to cause respiratory disease. After the ruling, the northern city of Hamburg said it would start to implement limits on diesel vehicles from the end of April.
There has been a global backlash against diesel-engine cars since leading German carmaker Volkswagen admitted in 2015 to cheating US exhaust tests.
The scandal has spread across the industry and boosted investment in electric vehicles.
Paris, Madrid, Mexico City and Athens have said they plan to ban diesel vehicles from city centres by 2025, while the mayor of Copenhagen wants to ban new diesel cars from entering the city as soon as next year. France and Britain will ban new petrol and diesel cars by 2040.
Bans in the home of some of the world’s biggest automakers are a further blow for the sector, and an embarrassment for Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government, which has faced criticism for its close ties to the industry.