German automaker Audi says it will fit up to 850,000 diesel cars with new software to improve their emissions performance, following a similar move by rival Daimler as the auto industry tries to get ahead of public controversy over the technology. Audi, the luxury brand of the Volkswagen Group, announced the voluntary retrofitting program today. The company said in a statement that it “aims to maintain the future viability of diesel engines” and believes the program “will counteract possible bans on vehicles with diesel engines.” The free program, which will apply to Europe and other markets outside the US and Canada, applies to cars with six- cylinder and eight-cylinder diesel engines. On Tuesday, Daimler said it will voluntarily recall 3 million Mercedes-Benz cars with diesel engines in Europe to improve their emissions performance. Diesels have been under a cloud since Volkswagen admitted equipping vehicles with software that manipulates the level of emissions. In the US, the software turned on emissions controls during lab tests and illegally turned them off when the cars were on the road, to improve performance.
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Separately, five German automakers Mercedes-Benz, Opel and Volkswagen and its subsidiaries Audi and Porsche last year agreed to recall a total of 630,000 diesel vehicles in Europe after it was found that real-world emissions often exceeded EU test results. There have been calls for bans on diesels in several German cities due to concerns about pollution levels, while the government in the large southern state of Baden- Wuerttemberg has said it would reject such demands if automakers came up with a way to adjust older vehicles to reduce emissions levels. Volkswagen has admitted using illegal software. In other cases, engine control software turns off emission controls at certain temperatures to avoid engine damage, carmakers say. That exemption is legal but German regulators have questioned whether its use was always justified. Auto executives will meet with Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt at a “diesel summit” over the issue on Aug. 2 in Berlin.