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In a remarkable coincidence of timing, the US authorities began publicising VW’s breaches of emissions limits in the same week as VW was advertising its new ‘eco-friendly’ models at the Frankfurt show (IAA). The IAA is one of the biggest shop windows for carmakers, in particular German makers, to show off their newest cars, hence the presence of Germany’s head of government at the opening.
The environmental organisation and T&E member Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) organised its publicity stunt to highlight the message that cars advertised as clean are breaking air quality limits, at times up to 25 times the permitted amount.
DUH accused the chief executives of Daimler, Volkswagen and BMW of being ‘personally jointly responsible’ for 10,000 premature deaths every year caused by air pollution from diesel exhausts. DUH’s general manager Jürgen Resch said: ‘To make a few hundred euros more profit per vehicle, the carmakers are fitting low-quality catalytic converters which lead to up to 25 times the permitted amount of emissions when cars hit the road.’
Data obtained by T&E show that every major carmaker is selling diesel cars that fail to meet EU air pollution limits in real-life driving conditions. A test of 23 new diesel vehicles showed that just three met the Euro 6 emissions standard for nitrogen oxides (NOx), with the average new car emitting more than five times the amount of pollutants allowed, with one Audi diesel emitting 22 times the EU NOx limit.
Resch added: ‘The American authorities don’t trust the car companies, so US buyers have cleaner versions of the cars sold in Europe. Merkel must force the car industry to stick to EU limits, and not to allow any diesel cars to be sold in Germany that fail to meet Euro 6 standards when tested in real-life conditions.’
Earlier this year, another NGO, the Italian consumer rights group Altroconsumo, launched legal actions against Fiat Chrysler and VW after it was found that the Fiat Panda 1.2 and the VW Golf 1.6 TDI consumed between 20% and 50% more fuel than advertised. Altroconsumo is claiming €239 in compensation for every Panda owner and €502 for every Golf owner. The case is still live.
Last year South Korean car manufacturers Hyundai and Kia agreed to pay a combined fine of $300 million for overstating fuel consumption claims, the largest such punishment ever. This settlement follows a two-year-long probe by the US Environmental Protection Agency and the US Justice Department. It could constitute a pricey precedent for other car companies exaggerating fuel economy figures.