EU oversight of vehicle testing gaining support as Fiat fiasco revealed

MEPs from the internal market committee (IMCO) became the latest group to back reform of the flawed and obsolete type approval system for cars which is at the heart of the Dieselgate scandal. The vote came as details emerged of special treatment for Fiat vehicles in tests conducted by Italy’s official investigation into Dieselgate.

The Fiat fiasco cast a harsh light on today’s largely national system for vehicle type approval and may boost efforts to allow more European oversight of the system. However, MEPs in the committee did not call for a new EU agency on vehicle enforcement – similar to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) – which T&E said is necessary to prevent a new emissions scandal.

IMCO followed the transport and environment committees’ lead in supporting the reform that grants more oversight of how cars are tested and approved to the European Commission. The committee’s vote strengthened the original proposal: it grants, among other things, unrestricted powers to the Commission to test cars under close-to-real conditions on the road and penalise those carmakers found breaking the rules.

In addition, MEPs voted to replace the inadequate peer reviews with independent audits of national authorities and have mandated the national regulators to properly check one in five new models on the road to verify compliance. In an effort to make test results more transparent and accessible, IMCO voted in favour of a new online database with public access to testing data for third parties and an online portal for consumer complaints.

Julia Poliscanova, T&E’s air quality manager, said: 'While the internal market committee has paved the way for better oversight, now MEPs in the plenary must go further and back an EU agency on vehicle enforcement. This is the only effective means to independently check cars in use and oversee the work of national regulators.'

T&E said the recent testing fiasco involving Fiat Chrysler exposed what will happen if enforcement remains in the hands of national regulators – they will continue to turn a blind eye on the illegal activities of their domestic car companies. Inconsistencies in the Italian Dieselgate investigation demonstrate that domestic carmakers are receiving preferential treatment by national authorities. Notably, while cars from other brands were tested in an independent laboratory, the Italian government allowed Fiat Chrysler cars to be tested at its Turin testing facilities. 

Additionally, three out of seven Fiat Chrysler models were exempted from undergoing tests on the road – without any explanation from the government or the carmaker. These models were also exempted from one of the more demanding test cycles, designed to screen for illegal defeat devices like the one Volkswagen was using to cheat emissions tests. The three engines of these models fared very badly in earlier investigations by German and French authorities.

The recent scandal around the treatment of Fiat Chrysler vehicles in the Italian Dieselgate investigation shows clearly the need for reforms and independent tests at EU-level, T&E said. The European Parliament is now expected to vote on its final position on type approval reform at its plenary meeting in April including whether to support an EU vehicle enforcement agency. EU governments are also currently considering their position on overhauling the type approval system.