Diesel legislation wars set to drag on

New ‘real-world’ emissions testing will be resisted by worried car-makers

Diesel emissions testing is to be taken out of the lab and on to the street

Diesel emissions testing is to be taken out of the lab and on to the street


The European Union’s newly agreed diesel emissions test plan is a groundbreaking one, as for the first time it seeks to take regulatory testing of vehicles out of the laboratory and on to real roads. It’s a move that looks set to be acrimoniously resisted by Europe’s carmakers, who fear that their engines won’t pass current and upcoming legislation if the testing is done under anything other than artificial lab conditions.

Theoretically, manufacturers have to keep to within an 80mg per km of nitrogen oxide (NoX) emissions, agreed back in 2007. Under lab testing, they can do this but recent pollution spikes in major European cities have raised concerns that the real-world figures will be much worse. Nitrogen-oxides are hugely harmful to health, causing respiratory disease and killing thousands every year, especially those who live and work in city centres.

Biggest emitters

Such alarming instances have caused several key European cities, including Paris, Berlin and London, to speak of diesel car bans, as diesel engines are the biggest emitters of NoX. Thus far, those proposals have been about banning older vehicles, which don’t meet the current EuroVI emissions regulations, but by moving the goalposts of the official tests, the EU has the carmakers spooked.

So far, only an agreement to conduct real-world testing has been forged and no actual numbers have been decided on for emissions limits or conducting of the testing. Erik Jonnaert, secretary general of the European carmaker’s alliance, the ACEA, said: “We call on the commission to urgently deliver a complete proposal for Real Driving Emissions (RDE) by June or July at the latest for a positive decision in the regulatory committee.

“We need to make more progress on clarifying all testing conditions to ensure a robust RDE regulation could commence from September 2017. Automobile manufacturers remain concerned about the piecemeal approach the commission is taking in preparing this proposal. This is not smart regulation. We need clarity in advance so that we can plan the development and design of vehicles in line with the new requirements.”

François Cuenot, air pollution officer at environmental pressure group Transport & Environment, said: “T&E is delighted that the commission and member states have taken this important step to tackle air pollution from diesel. Europe now needs to fully enforce the new rules from 2017 to bring an end to dirty diesels. 

“The organisation said that the 80mg of nitrogen oxide per km limit agreed for diesel cars in 2007 should be met in full. Member states throughout Europe exceed nitrogen dioxide limits exacerbating asthma in vulnerable people and shortening life expectancy in polluted places.

“Member states are relying on the promise of effective real-driving emissions tests to reduce emissions in the future and avoid potential fines for failing to meeting air pollution rules.”