Documents reveal: Commission scientists find car industry cheating emissions again

European Commission scientists have uncovered evidence of carmakers manipulating the results of a new test for CO2 emissions, documents obtained by Transport & Environment show. Less than three years after the Dieselgate NOx emissions scandal, the car industry is now inflating its CO2/fuel economy results, which could reduce the stringency of its 2025 CO2 targets by more than half. [1] In this way they will be able to sell fewer electric cars and more diesel vehicles while still hitting their targets.

The EU regulates carbon dioxide emissions from new cars through its CO2 standards and has set carmakers a target of 95g of CO2 per km 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 in the new WLTP emissions 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.

The Commission documents show that in tests carmakers are switching off the start-stop function. 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. The Commission found that: “As a result, the targets for 2025 and 2030 would also be weakened due to the inflated 2021 starting point. This would de facto reduce the level of ambition...”

William Todts, executive director at T&E, 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 higher 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 technology, and last week a report in Germany suggested the cartel investigation was being extended to particulate emissions from petrol engines.[2]

William Todts concluded: "The only way this trick can work is if all carmakers work together. The Commission must extend the ongoing cartel enquiries to investigate whether there has been collusion here. Just fixing the baseline problem isn’t enough, There needs to be sanctions to end the industry’s endemic cheating and collusion."

Notes to editors:

[1] In the case of a car with CO2 emissions measuring 100g/km in a proper WLTP lab test – without the manipulation described in the annex of the Commission non-paper – the addition of 5% of CO2 emissions because of the manipulation leads to an inflated measured WLTP value of 105g/km. On top of this carmakers have been further inflating the values 4.5% by declaration, giving a further inflated WLTP value of about 110g/km – this would be considered the baseline for the 2025 and 2030 CO2 reduction targets.

If a reduction target of 15%, as proposed by the Commission, is applied to this inflated baseline then the absolute target in 2025 would be 93.5g/km – a reduction of just 6.5% on the true baseline. In other words, the ambition level of the 2025 target is reduced by 57%.

If the same calculation is made for the proposed reduction target of 30% for 2030, the ambition level for 2030 is reduced by 23%.

T&E warned of this in a briefing, Ending the Cheating, published in April 2018:

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Documents – European Commission finds evidence of car industry manipulating WLTP tests to cheat CO2 emissions targets

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