EU car testing proposals are a sticking plaster on a gaping wound

When French investigators swooped on Renault last week to seize computers, it was yet another stark illustration of the systemic failure of car testing in Europe. Their investigation is linked to the Volkswagen emissions scandal, where national testing authorities failed to detect or even investigate the cheating – despite being made aware of the exceptionally high on-road emissions.

Highly suspicious tests had also been reported on a Renault Espace car that was 25 times over the legal limit when driven on the road. There were similar findings for a Mercedes C-Class 200 CDI and an Opel/Vauxhall Zafira. These followed the Mercedes scandal where vehicles continued to be approved for sale by the German transport ministry while they clearly used an illegal refrigerant in the air conditioning system. Carmakers’ manipulation of test results has also created a chasm between official figures for fuel economy and real-world performance.

These scandals, caused by a weak regulatory regime and obsolete tests, undermine the confidence of consumers. They also reduce the effectiveness of environmental and safety regulations, and the credibility of the single market and European regulations.

The European Commission has belatedly accepted the system is in need of an overhaul despite its own “fitness check” stating in 2013 that the existing rules were “appropriate in achieving the main policy goals of harmonisation, effective operation of the single market and ensuring fair competition,” and concluding there was “no need for a major overhaul”. But the planned overhaul, while moving in the right direction, fails to adequately address the key failings of the system – that the national authorities charged with approving vehicles: are competing for the business of approving cars; are paid by the carmakers; and therefore lack independence and fail to adequately scrutinise the tests and approval.

There are five areas in need of improvement:

  1. Effective oversight of national type approval authorities by the European Commission. The Commission must scrutinise the approvals issued by national authorities to ensure these are not unduly influenced by carmakers and that the work is to a consistently high standard. This must include: retesting one in four new models to ensure the results are correct; performing audits on the work of those involved in approving vehicles; and removing the right to approve vehicles where the work is not of a consistently good standard.

  2. Important decisions should require agreement from the Commission, which should also levy fines for non-compliance. For example, where “serious” safety or environmental concerns are identified, the Commission should act to stop sales of the model EU-wide. In addition, significant extensions to the approval or exemptions to the rules should need Commission agreement.

  3. End commercial arrangements between the national approval authorities and carmakers. The revenues earned by national authorities for approving cars are at the heart of the current weaknesses and lack of independence of the testing system. All testing work should be funded from a levy on new vehicle sales of around €20 per car.

  4. Cars sold must produce the same results as those tested by the authorities. There must be an end to the current system by which carmakers prepare special “golden vehicles” to pass the tests. This must involve retesting cars with low mileages with further tests at intervals up to 150,000km to ensure performance is retained in well-maintained cars.

  5. End the unnecessary secrecy surrounding the approval of cars. The current systems for approving cars are shrouded in unnecessary secrecy to the extent that it is even difficult to know which authority has approved which vehicle. There must be public access to information.

The Commission has the opportunity to return credibility to the testing of cars in Europe. The question is whether it is willing to stand up to the cheats in the car industry and the governments whose agencies are bankrolled by the industry?

Comments

Vasileios CHRYSAFIDIS's picture

Comment: 

The current legislation of type approving vehicles and NRMMs, provides sufficient measures and test implementing details in order to provide the Declaration of Conformity or Type Approval document.

Successive tests are to be conducted in case of failure of an engine or vehicle, under strict supervision of testing. Measures are described in case of failure to all of testing procedure as well.

The problem, as I see it, mainly lies on:

1. Who performs the tests

The Tests are performed by some specific and certified (by other relevant legislation) Technical Centers and Services, supposedly by the physical presence of a representative of the Type Approval Authority and of the manufacturer, OEM, etc. during the testing phase. Proposals in the coming amending legislation also include the possibility of the tests to be performed internally by the OEMs
and/or other outside Services.

P R O P O S A L

----- Regarding the engine/vehicle
All stages of this procedure should be targeted for scrutiny. In case of failure to comply with the testing procedure on which the issuing of the DOC, etc, documents are certified, the vehicle or engine – and as legislated the complete engine family or series of vehicles- should be immediately revoked, banned from placing them on the market (including exports to non EU countries) protecting the integrity of EU legislation reputation and integrity (you cannot place on foreign markets engines/vehicles that failed the planned test for EU market. Engines and vehicles for exports should on the first run comply with the relevant rules. No failures should be exported!!

---- Regarding the Testing Service
If proved * that the test they did was faulty, regardless of the reason, they should be fined and banned / excluded as Testing Service from the relevant list, thus loosing a significant if not the only source of income and business. It must be noted that these Technical Services are not that many in the EU and they act as appointed Testing Services for numerous Type Approval Authorities of EU Member States, so their ban of that line of work for one engine/vehicle OEM, would have a catastrophic impact for their business so prudence and strict implementation of testing rules would be forced to be internally implemented.

---- Regarding the test itself
It is true that the test should be updated, compared to the results so far. But as it is difficult to agree on the moment on the new Test, should there not be given a chance to correctly implement the existing test? In any case the new Test would not be implemented at least before 2019 and even then it would be only for the new engines/vehicles, leaving a big part still running in the EU territory!

2. Implementation of Warranty, as failure of the equipment to comply

All engines/vehicles, are covered by warranties and DOCs, assuring theta they comply with the relevant exhaust emissions legislation. A proven failure of that must directly revoke the eligibility of the provided documents and implement the Warranty system. As a result all involved parties would have a strong barrier to manipulate testing or breach specific contractual terms as they would bring them in front of heavy compensations as already described in the current legislation.

* 3. Who should perform the ‘independent’ test

An Independent Testing Center or Service, of 2nd Degree, should do the test by its own means, without the interference of any of the involved parties. The possibility of presence of public representatives during the test could be agreed in order to provide clarity and transparency of the procedure.
The engine/vehicle should be put to test in every possible test condition and result in an independent outcome. This outcome would then be the undisputed, final test, acting as the base for a ‘validated’ DOC or Type approval document.
This Independent Testing Centre could be selected by random choice, expressed interest of doing so, or any another agreed selection method. It goes without saying that this Centre would be not allowed to perform any other ype Approval or DOC issuing tests, for the period of selected to act as Independent Testing Authority’. Its only task would be to act as ‘Validator’ of the already performed conformity test by the legislated Technical Centres of the 1st degree that ended in the placing on the market of the specific engines/vehicles.
It could also be selected by an agreement of all existing Testing Services, in order to safeguard their integrity and transparency, protecting internally their business and setting their own rules, instead of defamation and EU Commission’s or MS’s intervention.

Surely, additional details need to be identified and resolved in order for such a scheme to be accepted, functional, sustainable and transparent. But it seems very clear that the current testing system has been beaten by time and the weaknesses emerged and manipulated can no longer be allowed to be present.

Thank you for the opportunity to express some ideas. Keep up the good work.

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About the author

Greg Archer's picture

Director, Clean Vehicles

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