Chapter 3.png
  • AFTER VW: Wholesale reform of Europe’s car emissions testing needed

    Europe’s response to the failure of EU vehicle emissions testing exposed by Volkswagen’s admission of cheating must be a complete overhaul of how cars are approved for sale. That was the response of T&E as further evidence emerged of the growing gap between official test results and cars’ actual carbon emissions on the road.

    Some new cars, including the Mercedes A, C and E class, BMW 5 series and Peugeot 308, are now swallowing around 50% more fuel than their lab test results, according to T&E’s 2015 Mind the Gap report. The results followed a week of revelations about Volkswagen’s use of ‘defeat device’ software to cheat air pollution tests in the US – affecting 11 million diesel vehicles worldwide, 8 million of which are in the EU.

    Calls have been intensifying for EU governments to extend their probes into defeat devices to CO2 tests and petrol cars too after the gap between official and real-world performance was found to be 40% on average in 2014, up from 8% in 2001. While not constituting proof of the use of defeat devices, T&E’s on-the-road test results found the gap in many car models has grown so wide that it cannot be explained through known factors including test manipulations.

    By exploiting loopholes in the test procedure, such as taping up car doors to reduce wind resistance, conventional cars can emit up to 40-45% more CO2 emissions on the road than what is measured in the lab. This distortion is costing a typical motorist €450 a year in additional fuel costs compared to what carmakers’ marketing materials claim. T&E said the gap has become a chasm and, without action, will likely grow to 50% on average by 2020.

    T&E say the gap is due to the obsolete testing system, which is unrepresentative of modern cars and driving styles and is full of loopholes that carmakers exploit to produce better test results. Also, carmakers pay for the certification work, leading to potential conflicts of interest. The payments can create an incentive for national regulators, or the companies hired to do the testing work, to grant approvals too easily.

    Greg Archer, clean vehicles manager at T&E, commented: ‘The only solution to this widening gap is a comprehensive investigation into both air pollution and fuel economy tests and all car manufacturers to identify whether unfair and illegal practices, like defeat devices, may be in use. There must also be a comprehensive overhaul of the testing system.’

    On air pollution, just one in 10 new diesel cars are as clean as the legal limit when tested on the road, according to data obtained by T&E. The Don’t Breathe Here report, published just four days before the US Environmental Protection Agency revealed Volkswagen cheated emissions tests, found that on average new diesel cars in Europe produce nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions about five times higher than the allowed limit.

    The main reason for the disparity was, again, Europe’s obsolete testing system, which allows carmakers to use cheaper, less effective exhaust treatment systems. In contrast, diesel cars sold by the same manufacturers in the US, where limits are tighter and tests are more rigorous, have better exhaust treatment systems and produce lower emissions.

    A new on-road test has been agreed by the European Commission and member states. It will, for the first time, measure diesels’ ‘real-world’ emissions but it will not apply to all new cars until 2018 at the earliest. Meanwhile, European carmakers’ response to Volkswagen cheating has been to lobby behind the scenes for a one-year delay to the introduction of planned EU limits on NOx emissions for all new cars sold.

    In a letter to EU ministers, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) also seemed to hint at a US-driven political conspiracy. ‘We understand that the US want to challenge the leadership role that European manufacturers have taken globally in this technology [diesel],’ it said.

    Greg Archer commented: ‘While automakers claim diesel cars are already clean, they are asking industry ministers to delay when new emissions rules apply to new sales. It’s time for carmakers to clean up their act and their vehicles.’

    Member states are currently responding to a leaked ‘non-proposal’ from the Commission for a two-step introduction of real-driving emissions limits. A decision is expected on the limits at the end of October after which the European Parliament will be able to reject on approve but not amend the proposal.