In its hearing with the EMIS MEPs in July, VW’s arrogance was hard to ignore. In his opening remarks the head of VW group development Dr. Ulrich Eichhorn shamelessly asked for better (read: less) regulation in Europe, hardly a sign of contrition. Furthermore, despite fitting the same test cheating software on both sides of the Atlantic, VW now claims it didn’t break any EU laws because, unlike in the US, the regulation doesn’t require it to disclose whether its software was legal or not! So in Europe customers of affected vehicles get a quick software update and, if they’re lucky, a bit of plastic piping. This is what VW claims to be “better customer service” than in the US where it buys back the car.
But VW is far from being the only car manufacturer abusing EU regulations and pumping out much more toxic gases than EU standards allow. Renault, Fiat, Opel and many others have been exposed as producing emissions up to 10 times the legal limit, and more in some cases, outside of the narrow test conditions. The French Royal Commission, the latest national investigation to produce a report, released its results late on a Friday afternoon, just as millions in France hit the road for their holidays. The findings demonstrate highly suspicious emissions behaviour for most tested cars, with Renault models standing out in terms of both the high numbers affected and the staggering emissions. Inexplicably, software experts on the committee were not asked to check the emissions software and no remedy action is proposed to clean up the cars. The report’s findings on Renault say it can’t prove the presence of illegal defeat devices but can’t rule them out either, begging the question of what was the point of this enquiry in the first place? Renault was also questioned by EMIS during the summer. The head of the group’s engineering, Gaspar Gascon Abellan, said defining normal use of a vehicle was “too risky” and he enlightened the committee on the complex parameters of car use that affect emission control such as “if a car is driven or if it stops”. You couldn’t make this up.
Arrogance and evasiveness were the leitmotif of both carmakers’ hearings. But this is unsurprising given the complacency of the national regulators that refuse to take any action against manufacturers’ abuse of the rules. Around one in five cars on Europe’s roads are employing emissions management strategies that are possibly illegal, and which switch down the exhaust aftertreatment system in cold or hot weather, at high speeds, on steep slopes and when the car is loaded. The complacency of carmakers suggests they are confident regulators will continue to collude in the cover-up. This confidence may be premature given the increasing number of legal cases being brought against manufacturers – including by Bavarian shareholders who feel they should have been alerted earlier to the risks by VW. A mass lawsuit by VW users, similar to a class action in the US, is also in the making. Renault and others, take note.
The true scandal is that the 70,000 Europeans die prematurely each year from high levels of nitrogen dioxide in our cities that carmakers should have prevented in order to comply with Euro 5 and 6 rules. Instead most carmakers chose to fit a cheap after-treatment system (exhaust gas recirculation, or EGR) to their diesel cars that was so unreliable they switched it off as much as possible to prevent breakdowns. Regulators in member states knew this but did nothing; and shockingly continue to do nothing – even allowing new cars onto the roads today with the same problems. These dodgy diesel cars should be recalled and repaired to bring the toxic emissions into line with the rules.
The EMIS committee should expose this continuing scandal and demand both industry and national regulators to fix the approximately 50 million diesel cars on Europe’s roads which are shortening the lives and ruining the health of EU citizens. If they do so, the enquiry committee and Parliament will have delivered a real service to citizens, and perhaps even the mighty carmakers will be more prudent about trying to circumvent EU regulations in the future.