Initially the Government sought to hide the findings of the commission by releasing the results on a Friday afternoon in late July as the country headed off on holiday. This was in sharp contrast to the announcements establishing the commission of inquiry made by environment minister Ségolène Royal who claimed that it would demonstrate French manufacturers did not operate in the same way as VW.
The investigation, in fact, found some Renault cars emitted levels of harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) up to 11 times the legal limits. However, it did not disclose the detailed data revealed about the worst polluters in in-depth testing – including that one Renault vehicle operated a NOx “trap” that went into overdrive when the car was subjected to prescribed emissions testing (resulting in much lower emissions on the test) but not in normal driving conditions. This strongly suggests the presence of a defeat device different to that deployed by VW but nevertheless illegal. The suggestion is that Paris is trying to protect its domestic car industry, similar to accusations regarding Italy’s treatment of Fiat cars, Germany of Opel, and the UK of Jaguar Land Rover. The French government has denied any intention to hide information.
The Commission is now requesting the methodology and data from the 10-month inquiry. ‘As with the other national inquiry reports that have been transmitted to us, we will require full access to the methodology and data before we can draw our own conclusions,’ said a spokesperson for the Commission.
The Financial Times, which highlighted the omission of data on Renault’s performance, reported an EU official as saying: ‘We are not going to take national investigations at face value.’ The move signals the growing breakdown in trust between the Commission and national governments, which up until now have taken responsibility for investigating domestic companies that are often champions of national industry.
T&E’s clean vehicles director, Greg Archer, said: ‘Minister Royal promised the Commission would clear French manufacturers – now her Department is covering up for Renault. The Minister must come clean and disclose the full findings of her inquiry and take action to ensure companies clean up the dirty diesels they have sold.’
While some national governments have lobbied for a clarification on how to interpret the existing rules on defeat devices, European Commission officials say the current laws are clear and must simply to be better enforced nationally. This view is supported by T&E which exposed the “dirty 30” diesel cars approved by domestic regulators which turned a blind-eye to switching down and off the exhaust aftertreatment systems in normal driving – contrary to the law.
MEPs criticised the French report and said that it added to suspicions that national governments were unwilling to investigate defeat devices – which deliberately and artificially lower cars’ emissions in test conditions. Green MEP Bas Eickhout said: ‘It confirms how governments are backing up their own car industry at the cost of public health. The possibility to switch off emission reduction devices has been misused over the last years. And now European and national lawmakers seem to refuse to call a spade a spade: this is unlawful use of defeat devices.’
Meanwhile the Volkswagen cheating scandal once again threatens to ensnare Europe’s biggest supplier of car parts after US lawyers claimed Bosch played a key role in developing technology to cheat emissions tests, starting in the late 1990s. The German supplier was an ‘active participant in a massive, decade-long conspiracy with VW,’ according to a court filing in a lawsuit taken by American vehicle owners. The new development in the case follows the negotiation of a historical settlement with the Volkswagen Group, but not involving other players. Bosch has rejected the car owners’ claims.
VW itself now faces a class-action suit to compensate drivers and legal action by shareholders over non-disclosure as the costs mount. Greg Archer added: ‘Manufacturers that systematically circumvent environmental regulations must be held to account. If regulators in member states won’t do it then they must be stripped off their powers and an independent regulator established.’