Chapter 3.png
  • UK Department for Transport must tackle conflict of interest in approving cars and immediately remove illegally polluting vehicles

    The UK Department for Transport (DfT) must stop acting for carmakers and start rigorously approving and bringing into compliance diesel cars in order to protect citizens from high levels of nitrogen oxides emissions, sustainable transport group Transport and Environment (T&E) has said. The group echoed the message from the UK House of Commons Transport Select Committee.

    The report published today by the parliamentary committee highlights the conflict of interest within the DfT’s Vehicle Certification Agency. T&E gave evidence to the committee. The VCA both tests and approves the cars, and is paid by carmakers to provide consultancy services. Once a car has been approved it can be sold anywhere in Europe.

    The committee’s report highlights that Skoda cars (which are part of the Volkswagen Group) were approved by the VCA and had the same defeat device fitted to them that has resulted in $15 billion in fines and damages in the US. Yet in the UK no penalties have been levied against Skoda by the VCA, which has even declined to confirm that the device is illegal.

    Greg Archer, clean vehicles director at T&E, said: “The VCA is acting in the interests of its carmaker clients and not as a robust regulator that ensures diesel cars approved for sale are legally clean. The new Secretary of State for Transport, Chris Grayling, needs to get a grip on his agency. VCA must swiftly take action to bring the polluting cars it allowed on the roads back in line with pollution standards.”

    A recent study by T&E highlights that the VW issues are the tip of the iceberg and most carmakers are switching down and off diesel exhaust treatment systems when the car is in normal use. Carmakers claim this is to protect the engine but some turn down the pollution controls at temperatures below 17°C, when the car is heavily loaded or when it is being driven on motorways. Of the ‘Dirty 30’ diesel models that were among the most polluting sold in Europe, nine were approved by the VCA.  

    In other parts of Europe, vehicle approval authorities have forced manufacturers to voluntarily recall cars to lower their emissions. So far Mercedes, Vauxhall/Opel, Renault and Suzuki have recalled vehicles and carmakers offices have been raided by prosecutors in France and Germany. But in the UK no such action has been taken despite potentially five million Euro 5 diesel cars on the UK’s roads being affected. If the emissions from these cars were lowered, dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air would fall. In the UK it is estimated that 23,500 people die prematurely from breathing NO2, according to the Department for the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra).

    The Dirty 30 cars approved in the UK include the Ford Focus, Honda CR-V, Jaguar XE, Land Rover Evoke, Nissan Qashqai and Toyota Avensis. All of these carmakers have major manufacturing plants in the UK. A freedom of information request from Greenpeace confirmed that in the last decade the VCA had earned £80 million (€96m) in fees from carmakers.