Evidence of carmakers manipulating new test to cheat CO2 targets – Commission

Carmakers are manipulating the results of a new test for CO2 emissions, evidence uncovered by the European Commission indicates. The new lab-based WLTP test was supposed to fix the testing problems that in the past allowed manufacturers to cheat EU emissions targets. But Commission documents indicate the industry is manipulating the new test results to inflate the CO2/fuel economy results of its vehicles. This will reduce the stringency of the EU’s proposed 2025 CO2 targets by more than half.

The Commission’s scientists found that, less than three years after the Dieselgate NOx emissions scandal, carmakers are switching off the start-stop function in tests. They are also adjusting the gear-shift patterns and using depleted batteries to burn more fuel and emit more CO2. In addition carmakers are declaring higher values than they actually measure, again inflating the official emission values. “As a result, the targets for 2025 and 2030 would also be substantially weakened due to the inflated 2021 starting point,” the Commission said. “This would de facto reduce the level of ambition...”

The EU has set a target of 95g of CO2 emissions per km for new cars in 2021. In its 2017 proposal for 2025 standards the Commission decided not to propose a new grams-based target but instead to require a 15% cut compared to carmakers’ emissions in 2021, which will be measured with the new WLTP test. As a result carmakers can weaken the stringency of their 2025 CO2 targets by inflating CO2 results in the WLTP, but still meet the current 2020/21 standards which are based on the old NEDC test.

T&E’s executive director, William Todts, said: ‘After Dieselgate carmakers promised to change and that new tests were the solution. Now it’s clear they're using these new tests to undermine the already weak CO2 standards. They want to meet these with minimal effort so they can keep selling diesels and delay the shift to electric cars. It's a sad reminder the car industry wants to stay in the past and cannot be trusted.’

As higher CO2 emissions will result in higher taxes being levied on a vehicle, there is a risk for each carmaker that their cars will be taxed more than their competitors. To maintain a level playfield, there would need to have been collusion between all car manufacturers to inflate their CO2 values. Brussels is already probing carmaker collusion on a wide range of emissions technology, and last week a report in Germany suggested the cartel investigation was being extended to particulate emissions from petrol engines.

The carmakers’ manipulation follows decades of gaming the old emissions test (NEDC) to meet CO2 reduction targets. Between 2000 and 2017 the widespread industry manipulation cost drivers an extra €149.6 billion in additional fuel bills, according to new research by T&E. In 2017 alone, this wasted €23.4 billion of Europeans’ money – slightly more than what all Swedes spent on food last year. Since 2000 the manipulation of CO2 tests has produced an additional 264 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent, slightly more than the annual CO2 emissions of the Netherlands.

In Germany €36 billion of drivers’ money has been wasted by carmakers’ manipulation since 2000. It cost British motorists €24.1 billion in the same period, the French 20.5 billion, Italians €16.4 billion and Spaniards €12 billion.

The gap between the test and real-world emissions of new cars has leapt from 9% in 2000 to 42% in 2016 mainly through carmakers manipulating the laboratory test and also through fitting technology (such as start-stop) to cars that deliver much bigger savings in the lab than on the road.

T&E’s clean vehicles director, Greg Archer, said: ‘Carmakers claims of huge progress improving fuel consumption is a scam. Despite regulations to reduce emissions, there has been no real-world improvement in CO2 emissions for five years and just a 10% improvement since 2000 - far less than the industry like to claim. The victims are citizens that have paid out €150 billion for more fuel and are also suffering the consequences of unchecked climate change.’

The only effective fix to stop test cheating is to move compliance checking to the road such as introducing a real-world CO2 test or using data from fuel consumption meters. This was recommended by the Commission’s independent experts but was not implemented in the post-2020 car CO2 proposal, which only included toothless monitoring. T&E’s analysis shows real-world controls would save an additional 108 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030 and save drivers €54 billion in lower fuel bills compared to the Commission's current proposal.

Greg Archer concluded: ‘The Commission’s inadequate proposal to reduce CO2 emissions from cars and vans after 2020 comes with a new licence for carmakers to keep gaming the system. The result will be EU member states missing their climate targets and drivers continuing to fork out more for fuel. Members of the European Parliament and the EU environment ministers now need to act to prevent car industry colluding to cheat the rules.’