Germany holding back diesel emissions legislation, say critics

Emissions reforms await Berlin’s approval but UK magazine says VW’s diesel fix is making cars thirstier

An agreement to toughen up EU legislation and regulations surrounding vehicle emissions, designed to ensure that another ‘dieselgate’ scandal can never re-occur, is being held up by the German government, which wants more time to agree a compromise proposal

An agreement to toughen up EU legislation and regulations surrounding vehicle emissions, designed to ensure that another ‘dieselgate’ scandal can never re-occur, is being held up by the German government, which wants more time to agree a compromise proposal

 

An agreement to toughen up EU legislation and regulations surrounding vehicle emissions, designed to ensure that another ‘dieselgate’ scandal can never re-occur, is being held up by the German government, which wants more time to agree a compromise proposal.

The new setup would allow for vehicle emissions checks to be carried out by the European Commission, which would also set numbers for random spot checks of cars after they have been approved and homologated for sale. There is some anger, though, that existing individual national regulators will be let off any oversight from the Commission, and will not be subject to independent audits.

Germany is known to be opposed to the transfer of powers from national regulators to the Commission, but the discussions over the new regulations are being further complicated by a difference of opinion between the German ministries for transport (Federal Motor Transport Authority, the KBA or Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt), and for the environment.

Julia Poliscanova, clean vehicles and air quality manager for environmental pressure group Transport & Environment (T&E), told The Irish Times: “we know all European carmakers have been abusing the weak EU testing system to circumvent the rules and then emit more on the road. But Germany is the only country lobbying to retain the failed status quo in Europe that would continue allowing carmakers to cheat by failing to implement checks and balances in the system. This regulatory capture is not in the interests of German citizens.”

T&E also quoted from a new study, published in the scientific journal Nature, which shows that diesel emissions above permitted limits lead directly to 38,000 premature deaths from respiratory failure last year, with 11,400 of those deaths in Europe.

Putting further pressure on regulators are results from independent tests by the UK-based magazine, Autocar. The magazine has tested a Volkswagen Touran, powered by the 1.6-litre TDI diesel EA189 engine which has been at the centre of the diesel scandal. The car has been part of the global recall of VW diesel vehicles to have its software and hardware changed so that it meets emissions regulations on the road, and not just in laboratory tests, and VW certifies that the modifications “do not adversely impact the engine performance, fuel consumption, CO2 emissions, torque or noise of your vehicle.”

Autocar’s independent tests, carried out at the former General Motors prototype testing centra at Millbrook in Bedfordshire, seem to show otherwise.

According to the results, the car’s fuel consumption dropped from 50.72mpg before the modifications, to 47.61 mpg after, which also raised Co2 emissions from 147g/km to 156g/km.

Volkswagen is disputing the results of the tests, saying that there are a number of variables which may have affected it, but the broader political difficulty is that the German transport authority, the KBA, signed off on all of the fixes and updates to VW’s diesel engines. If it can be shown that those fixes make the engines more thirsty, or drive up their emissions, then the German government’s position on the new regulations could be threatened.

In a move that some have claimed is an attempt to deflect emissions cheating scrutiny away from German car makers, the KBA has accused Fiat of using a so-called ‘defeat device’ on diesel-engined models of its 500x crossover. The Authority sad that it would send the results of the test, and those of other recent tests, to the European Commission for investigation.

According to German news magazine Der Spiegel, while undergoing testing, an exhaust gas treatment system in the 500x switched itself off after 90-minutes, allowing the levels of emissions to rise. Previous tests had shown that similar systems switched off after 22-minutes. Those timings are interesting - the current NEDC laboratory fuel consumption and emissions tests take around 20-minutes to conduct, while the forthcoming Real-world Driving Emissions (RDE) test is expected to take around 90-120-minutes for each vehicle.

Fiat said in response that its cars meet the current emissions test. We are not in a position to comment on the validity or accuracy of supposed KBA internal documents or on purported emissions tests that we have never seen”in all material respects to applicable emissions requirements.”

The possibility of Fiat facing similar investigations to those of Volkswagen and Renault has been bubbling under for a while now. Earlier this year, independent tests suggested that Fiat-built vehicles were not performing consistently on tests, and that the Italian government may have been rubber-stamping emissions test in full knowledge of that fact.