EU bids to bring carmakers into line after dieselgate

The EU is set to play a more active role in upholding emissions standards under new plans to overhaul the system whereby national authorities approve cars to be sold in all 28 member states. Testing services will operate independently and face penalties for misconduct, under the European Commission’s proposal. Currently, testing companies, appointed by national testing authorities, are paid directly by carmakers.

The performance of testing companies will be routinely audited while national type approval authorities will be subject to peer reviews to ensure they are enforcing EU standards and that there is consistency across Europe. However, the national authorities, which failed to catch Volkswagen cheating, allowed tests to be systematically manipulated and issued approvals for cars in breach of the rules, will not face sanctions under the new system and carmakers will still be able to ‘shop’ around authorities in Europe for the best deal.

No clear targets

T&E welcomed steps to strengthen market surveillance such as re-tests of cars already on the road and the Commission’s ability to do spot-checks, recall cars and fine carmakers up to €30,000 per vehicle for selling cars that do not meet standards on the road. The Commission would also have the power to suspend or withdraw the designation of technical services that are underperforming or not applying the rules.

However, there are no clear targets for the number of cars on the road that have to be checked, which T&E said are needed to overcome the reluctance of national authorities to test cars once they leave the showroom. Real-world driving emissions tests, recently introduced, must be used for future checks, T&E also said.

Greg Archer, clean vehicles director of T&E, said: ‘This good proposal addresses many flaws in the current car testing system but lacks teeth. The principal reason why Volkswagen managed to get away with cheating in Europe was the lack of independence of national authorities, which were compromised by their cosy relationship with carmakers.

‘Without the threat of future EU sanctions, it will be mission impossible to break the strong bond between national regulators and their carmakers which has protected the industry at the cost of higher emissions and bad air.’

EU governments and the European Parliament are expected to discuss the Commission's proposals for national type approval in the coming months with a first reading of the proposed new rules likely to be completed in the autumn.

MEPs vote on weaker NOx limits

Meanwhile, the Commission presented a ‘political package’ of proposals to governments in an effort to dissuade the European Parliament from rejecting the watering down of EU air pollution limits. Last year Italy, the UK, Germany, France and Spain, which all have large car manufacturing industries, successfully lobbied the Council to double the limits for nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from diesel cars and delay the implementation of new limits for all new cars until 2019.

The proposed three-point plan highlighted the work underway to overhaul EU car type approval. It also undertook to swiftly work to reduce, on an annual basis, the measurement uncertainty that allows carmakers to overshoot emissions standards and to ensure that future decisions on conformity factors would be made by the Commission. However, T&E said the Council has continued to be obstructive on the key issue of the future review. With national MEPs under pressure from governments, the Parliament narrowly voted to accept the watering down of the limits.

MEPs are also gearing up for a 12-month probe into carmakers’ breaches of EU rules on emissions tests after they voted in January to establish a committee of inquiry. 14 EPP, 12 S&D, five ECR, four ALDE, three Green, three GUE/NGL, two EFDD and two Europe of Nations and Freedom MEPs will be able to demand – but not compel – national and EU officials to attend its hearings, and examine documents and interview witnesses in private if required. The inquiry is expected to highlight the cozy relationship between both national and EU policymakers and national car industries.