Support for weaker rules has come from the global car lobby OICA and Nira Dynamics, a producer of the cheaper ‘indirect’ TPMS systems. An expert task force has shown that indirect systems are less accurate and less safe than direct systems.(1) Nira, is based in Sweden but 90% owned by Audi AG of Germany.(2) Both countries have voiced support for weaker standards, and both Nira and Audi representatives have been involved in the working group that will set the new standard.(3)
Tyres are responsible for around 9% of all fatal road accidents on European motorways, according to the French government. (4) Underinflated tyres wear out faster and also cause cars to use more fuel, leading to an additional 12 megatonnes of CO2 emissions every year (5).
Responsibility for working out the details of the EU law has been passed to the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE). But discussion in the UNECE’s Working Party on Brakes and Running Gear (GRRF) has been dominated by car industry efforts to ensure the cheapest possible system be fitted.
The GRRF has agreed to the car industry’s call for systems to be fitted that have a time limit for reporting underinflation of 60 minutes.(6) Currently the average passenger car journey time in the EU is around 20 minutes. The weak 60 minute limit allows for the fitting of cheaper ‘indirect’ systems, which estimate whether a tyre is underinflated by checking wheel revolutions and vibrations rather than directly measuring tyre pressure. Indirect systems have to be calibrated by the driver. Research carried out for the UNECE confirms that indirect TPMS systems are at best ineffective and at worst dangerous, as they give drivers a false sense of security. (1)
Direct systems that respond much more quickly than indirect systems and also give more accurate readings, currently cost around €25 per vehicle. Indirect systems cost around €8 (7). Fitting direct systems can save drivers on average €400 of fuel over the lifetime of a car (8).
Jos Dings, director of Transport & Environment, an environmental organization with observer status at the UNECE, said:
“Highly accurate technology is readily available, will save lives, will help in the fight against climate change, and costs just a few euros more. The car industry backed by Germany and Sweden are supporting a proposal that will lead to deaths on the road that could have been prevented. The EU must stand firm and back stronger standards that ensure this life saving technology is fitted to every new car sold in Europe.”
Transport & Environment calls for the EU to set limits at Tuesday’s ‘comitology’ meeting that will ensure new cars are fitted with accurate TPMS.
Transport & Environment is increasingly concerned about industry dominance and the lack of public scrutiny at the UNECE. In August T&E reported that a new UNECE engine noise testing standard for new cars would actually lead to cars getting louder. The standard was designed by Porsche, on behalf of the global car industry. (9)
(1) GRRF TPMS task force conclusions, June 2008:
http://www.unece.org/trans/doc/2008/wp29grrf/TPM-03-02r1e.pdf and summarized in European Rubber Journal Vol. 190, No. 5, Sept/Oct 2009, p.32.
(5) Calculated from (1) and http://ec.europa.eu/enterprise/automotive/projects/report_co2_reduction.pdf, p.116
(6) GRRF recommendation to WP29: http://www.unece.org/trans/doc/2009/wp29/ECE-TRANS-WP29-2009-129e.pdf and http://www.unece.org/trans/doc/2009/wp29/ECE-TRANS-WP29-2009-129c1e.pdf
(7) http://www.unece.org/trans/doc/2008/wp29grrf/TPM-03-03e.pdf (p.21)
(8) Assuming €20,000 lifetime vehicle fuel costs and 2% fuel consumption reduction.