Porsches up to four times louder under German government proposal

Future Porsche sports cars could get away with being almost four times noisier than regular cars while high performance versions of the BMW 3 series, Audi A4 and Mini Cooper could become almost twice as loud under German plans for weak international limits on vehicle noise (1). Noise reductions for lorries would also be delayed until 2028 if the proposal from the German transport and environment ministries is accepted. T&E is calling on the EU to set its own stringent noise standards for cars and lorries in a proposal expected later this month.

[mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]Close to half of all Europeans are regularly exposed to traffic noise levels that are potentially dangerous to health. Transport noise is linked to 50,000 fatal heart attacks every year and 200,000 cases of cardio-vascular disease in the EU.

The German proposal, which has been heavily influenced by the German car and truck industry lobbies, will be presented next week at the working group on noise of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) in Geneva (2). If the proposal is accepted, exceptions will be granted that would allow all Porsche sports cars to be up to four-times louder than other cars (3). High performance versions of family cars including the BMW 3 series, Audi A4, VW Golf and Mini would be allowed to emit almost double regular car noise levels (4). At full throttle, sports cars could get away emitting over 100 decibels, equivalent to a pneumatic drill.

Germany is also putting pressure on the UN regulatory body to delay new noise limits for lorries. Half of all vehicle noise is caused by lorries. Berlin is asking for a 1-decibel reduction compared to the current limit, set in 1992, and says this reduction should enter into force only 14 years after the new regulation is adopted, i.e. not before 2027-8. Taking into account the slow pace of fleet renewal, it is realistic to say that the new standards would not be fully effective before 2040. That would equate to a 1 decibel reduction in half a century, with no benefit to health; shockingly slow progress considering the scale of the health impacts associated with noise pollution. The German proposals appear designed to benefit German car and lorry makers who make some of Europe’s most powerful vehicles.

This is not the first time that the UN regulatory body for noise has been influenced by the German car industry. In August 2009, T&E found that an earlier UNECE proposal for vehicle noise had been written by a Porsche engineer on behalf of the global car industry lobby OICA (5).

The intervention follows the adoption by the German government in June this year of a fuel-efficiency label for new cars that gives gas guzzling SUVs such as the Porsche Cayenne and Audi Q7 the same ‘green’ rating as some of Europe’s most fuel efficient car models. (6).

The European Commission is expected to publish its own proposal on noise emissions from cars, vans, lorries and buses later this month. It is likely that Germany will also try to weaken those proposals in order to gain concessions for its car industry.

Nina Renshaw, deputy director of Transport & Environment said: “With the German proposal, the noisiest offenders will be able to get away without making any effort to produce quieter vehicles. Millions of people will continue to have sleepless nights thanks to roaring car engines and noisy lorries. Rich Porsche owners can afford houses in the countryside while society’s poorest and most vulnerable who have to live next to busy roads will pay the price if the German proposal gets the go-ahead.”

“The German proposal is another example of what happens when the car industry gets too close to the regulator; it beggars belief that a proposal designed to cut noise emissions would actually do the opposite. The UNECE has a mandate to cut noise to protect health so should formulate a proposal that actually does that.”

“It is time for the EU to take the lead on tackling traffic noise and ignore the irrelevant and industry-dominated UNECE process. The EU Commission must stick to its plan to reduce car noise limits by at least 4 decibels by 2016 and lorry limits by at least 3 decibels. It should also set a further step now, reducing noise emissions for cars by a further 3 decibels and lorries by a further 4 decibels by 2020.”

1) The German proposal can be viewed on the UNECE website

2) Both the UNECE and the EU have the authority to adopt vehicle noise standards. Those enforced by the EU apply to vehicles sold in the EU, whereas the UNECE sets international standards that the EU can choose to adopt.

3) For more technical details on the German proposal, see this T&E briefing

4) The German proposal is based on the power to weight ratio of cars: those over 160 kw/tonne would be allowed to be 5 decibels louder while cars between 120 and 160 kw/tonne would be allowed an extra 2 decibels. The decibel scale is logarithmic; so these small sounding increases equate to almost a doubling and almost a quadrupling of noise limits respectively.

5) See T&E press release.

6) See T&E press release.

For more information on traffic noise impacts on health, see the WHO website.