BMW, Mercedes, Opel accused of ‘gaming’ tests

Campaigners call out other car makers on exhaust tests amid ongoing scandal

A BMW X3, Opel Zafira Tourer and Citroen C4 Picasso were all tested under real world conditions by the International Council on Climate Change (ICCT) and all were found to be emitting more than the official limits for nitrogen oxide (NOx)

A BMW X3, Opel Zafira Tourer and Citroen C4 Picasso were all tested under real world conditions by the International Council on Climate Change (ICCT) and all were found to be emitting more than the official limits for nitrogen oxide (NOx)

 

As the scandal over Volkswagen’s ‘gaming’ of its emissions tests runs on and on, other car makers are being drawn inexorably into the mix. Environmental think-tank Transport & Environment (T&E) is now claiming that other car makers are breaching the limits of the emissions tests under real-world conditions.

The BMW X3, Opel Zafira Tourer and Citroen C4 Picasso were all tested under real world conditions by the International Council on Climate Change (ICCT) and all were found to be emitting more than the official limits for nitrogen oxide (NOx), between 5.1-times the limit for the Citroen and 9.9-times the limit for the BMW.

Further tests were carried out on a BMW 5 Series saloon and a Peugeot 308 hatchback, and these were shown to be emitting almost 50 per cent more than the allowed limit of carbon dioxide (Co2) - the gas upon which almost all of Europe’s vehicle taxation systems are built. The results were published in the German magazine Auto Bild.

The report put a dent in BMW’s share price yesterday, but the Munich-based company continues to deny that it uses software that artificially alters its cars’ environmental performance under testing. “There is no function to recognise emissions testing cycles at BMW. All emissions systems remain active outside the testing cycles,” a BMW spokesman said.

ICCT and T&E both also claimed that Mercedes models which it tested were also emitting 50 per cent more than the allowed amount of Co2, but Mercedes has consistently distanced itself from the emerging emissions scandal, saying that it has never artificially altered the outcomes of official emissions test.

Problems with the test

The problem is that these results may not actually be because of cheating, in an official sense. The European test for vehicle emissions is supposedly even more stringent and better-overseen than the American one, but the fact is that you can, almost literally, drive a coach and horses through the loopholes in the test.

As has been much-discussed in recent years, the current New European Driving Cycle test, from which all official CO2 and fuel economy figures are taken, actually allows car makers to set up their cars in such a way that no-one could really drive them on the public road.

Spare tyres and interior trim can be removed to save weight, body panel gaps can be taped up to improve aerodynamics, and wing mirrors can be taken off for the same purpose. The car’s battery can be externally charged and the alternator disconnected to reduce strain on the engine.

Air conditioning is never used and non-standard low-rolling resistance tyres can be fitted, and they can be over-inflated to near the point of exploding, all in the name of setting the best possible figure on the official test. All of this is entirely legal and above board, under the current system, which rather puts Volkswagen’s actions into some sort of perspective.

T&E suspects that a combination of these allowed cheats, and more hidden devices, is making the current emissions tests all but meaningless. “Through trickery, the gap between official fuel economy figures and those achieved by an average driver have grown to 40 per cent.

For new diesel cars nitrogen oxide emissions are typically five times higher on the road than the allowed limit and just one in 10 cars meets the required level on the road. But for some models the gap is so large T&E suspects that the car is able to detect when it is tested using a “defeat device” and artificially lowers emissions during the test” said a T&E spokesperson. “Why haven’t European authorities undertaken similar tests to their US equivalents? Regrettably, the European system of testing is much less independent and robust than that in the US where 10-15 per cent of new models are retested by the US authorities in their own laboratories. In Europe carmakers pay certified testing organisations to perform tests in the carmakers’ own laboratories. The tests are overseen by National Type Approval Authorities. But carmakers ‘shop’ for the best deal from agencies across Europe and directly pay for their services. The job of the engineer overseeing the test is ultimately dependent on the next contract from the carmaker.”