In the last few days several announcements have demonstrated how the initial exposure of Volkswagen’s cheating US tests is merely the tip of an iceberg of test manipulation. In the US more models, including models from Porsche, have been accused of having illegal levels of diesel NOx emissions. This was followed by VW admitting that it overstated fuel economy and CO2 figures by 10-15% on 800,000 vehicles, including petrol cars. In a further announcement, the environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe (Environmental Action Germany, DUH) exposed suspicious test results on an Opel Zafira. General Motors deny any wrongdoing.
The drip, drip of disclosure confirms T&E’s assertion that the recent Dieselgate scandal is the tip of an emerging iceberg in terms of a systematic manipulation of vehicle tests. It supports assertions in our recent Don’t Breathe Here report regarding the widespread exceedance of diesel NOx limits on the road. Our Mind the Gap report highlights the growing gap between test and real-world CO2 figures for all manufacturers through test manipulation. The problems in Europe arise because carmakers are allowed to test specially prepared “golden” vehicles in unrepresentative laboratory tests conducted by testing organisations they pay. The tests are overseen by national type approval authorities, which compete for the business of “approving” cars for sale and are paid by the carmakers.
The solutions are threefold. Firstly Europe must establish a politically independent ‘European Road Vehicle Inspection’ body. This should be responsible for checking the performance of vehicles on sale against those tested in laboratories and undertaking inspections – a similar role to that performed by the US EPA. Funding should come through a small levy on new vehicle sales, and the body should oversee the work of national authorities to ensure the level of scrutiny is consistently high.
Secondly, the rules governing the type approval of vehicles must be tightened. The Type Approval Framework Directive is due to be revised shortly – it needs an overhaul.
Thirdly we need new, relevant tests and new limits that are enforced. The WLTP test for CO2 and RDE test for air pollution are progress but must be implemented from 2017. But the legal limits must be met – not diluted through the backdoor, as is currently proposed for the 95g/km CO2 limit for 2021 and 80mg/km Euro 6 limit for diesel NOx. New 2025 targets are also needed for both pollutants to ensure progress is delivered on the road not just in the laboratory.
The iceberg is emerging – the systemic abuse of vehicle tests can be brought to an end. The solutions are known – we will see whether the political will exists to stand up to the car industry and give citizens clean air to breathe and efficient cars to drive.