35m dirty diesel cars to focus minds of MEPs in Dieselgate stand-off with governments

There are 35 million dirty diesel cars and vans driving on Europe’s roads today – six million more than when the Dieselgate scandal broke in 2015. The growth in the number of poisonous vehicles in the fleet – revealed by new T&E research – will be a stark reminder to MEPs as they enter negotiations with governments this September to reform the flawed system of testing and approving cars for sale in Europe.

Of the Euro 5 and 6 standard diesel cars and vans sold in Europe between 2011 and 2016, some 35 million exceed the nitrogen oxides (NOx) limits by at least three times, the research shows. This is a result of carmakers cheating the tests by employing emission control technology in the lab but switching it off or turning it down on the road. It’s estimated these excess NOx emissions alone caused nearly 7,000 early deaths in Europe in 2015.

T&E analysed emissions test data from over 200 diesel models. Data were taken from the investigations conducted by the British, French and German governments, as well as a large public database. Countries with the largest car manufacturing industries have the highest numbers of grossly polluting diesels. The number of dirty diesels in Germany, second only to France, grew to 6.5 million in 2016, while the UK has 5.3 million driving on its roads. Italy has almost 4 million and Spain counts 2.4 million. But very few of these are required to be cleaned up.

So the pressure is now on MEPs and the European Commission to stand firm and agree an ambitious overhaul of Europe’s broken system of testing and approving cars, which allowed the cheating to go unaddressed. They will enter trilogue talks with EU governments which last month agreed a much watered down position on the reforms proposed. Most notably, national ministers opposed independent EU-level oversight of national type approval authorities – the regulators that allowed carmakers to cheat vehicle emissions tests.

Ministers also voted to allow carmakers to continue to directly pay supposedly independent services that conduct the tests. However, the Maltese presidency of the EU secured governments’ support for after-sale checks on vehicles – as used by the Environmental Protection Agency in the US.

T&E’s clean vehicles and air quality manager, Julia Poliscanova, said: ‘After almost two years and despite Germany’s opposition to the reform, ministers have finally agreed their position. The governments’ reforms fall short on ambition by exempting national car regulators from proper checks and allowing the current conflicts of interest to continue.’

It is hoped that agreement on the type approval reforms will be reached by the end of the year. More than 70,000 Europeans die prematurely each year from high levels of nitrogen dioxide in cities, according to the European Environment Agency. Carmakers could have prevented many of these deaths by complying with Euro 5 and 6 rules properly.

Julia Poliscanova concluded: ‘The European Parliament and Commission can show their value to citizens by standing up for clean vehicles and clean air. They must ensure the regulators that allowed dieselgate are monitored and stop carmakers directly paying those that test the car. Without this future scandals are inevitable.