• EU commissioner tells Transport Ministers to clean up diesel cars to tackle the city air pollution crisis

    A leaked letter shows the EU industry commissioner has issued a stark warning to transport ministers that the consequences of the Dieselgate scandal, and the failure to clean up dirty diesel cars still on our roads, are contributing to a city air pollution crisis. The leaked letter, seen by Transport & Environment (T&E), stresses the need for carmakers to “rapidly reduce” NOx emissions of the diesel fleet in Europe; and that in the absence of this cities are being increasingly forced to resort to “local diesel bans”.

    In the letter, Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska criticises member states for their failure to identify and clean up grossly polluting vehicles, writing that “further improvements of national market surveillance capacities are clearly needed…” She also makes clear the scandal has now spread beyond Volkswagen to “many other brands” which show too high emissions in real-driving conditions.

    Following the recent announcement that Daimler is to recall three million vehicles for software upgrades [1], the commissioner asks ministers to be proactive and make “rapid progress” in bringing down NOX emissions in cities. Non-compliant cars should be removed from the market and circulation “as soon as possible,” she writes. The Commissioner also wants all non-compliant VW cars fixed by the end of 2017 or withdrawn from the road when they are inspected in 2018.

    Greg Archer, clean vehicles director at T&E, said: “The Commissioner has clearly lost patience with carmakers and their friends in governments who have failed to take action against the 35 million dirty diesel cars on the EU’s roads. It is time for the industry to clean up the air and the mess they have created by recalling cars and upgrading the emissions controls systems.”

    The Commission also hints at further legislation if the industry doesn’t act voluntarily or if member states fail to require cars to be cleaned up. Specifically she calls for a “Europeanisation” of national measures which are not yet possible under the current EU type-approval framework. This could avoid a situation in which cities establish different diesel ban rules, confusing car owners.

    Greg Archer concluded: “Diesel bans are the inevitable consequence of the toxic air in cities and 70,000 deaths caused by breathing high levels of nitrogen dioxide – much from diesel vehicles. The only reason not to ban diesel cars is if the levels of pollution they emit are as low as from gasoline cars. A few diesel cars on the road already achieve this but the average new diesel is still producing nine times more NOx than a gasoline car.”

    The commissioner also tells ministers she is convinced that “we should rapidly head for zero emission vehicles in Europe”. To facilitate this, the Commission is currently analysing ways to incentivise low and zero-emission vehicles in a technology neutral way, such as “setting specific targets for them”.[2]

    There are 35 million grossly polluting diesel cars and vans driving on Europe’s roads today, six million more than in 2015. [3] These Euro 5 and 6 diesel cars and vans were sold in Europe between 2011 and 2016 and exceed the nitrogen oxides (NOx) limits by at least three times.


    Notes to editors:

    [1] Daimler Will Recall 3 Million Diesel Cars Across Europe to Fix Emissions

    [2] A European Strategy for Low Emission mobility

    [3] 35 million dirty diesels are driving on Europe’s roads today, new research finds