Diesel cars will continue to exceed emission limits

With the new real driving emissions test coming into force from September 2017, new diesel cars will still be allowed to exceed the NOx pollution limit by 110 per cent.

In the shadow of the Dieselgate scandal – the revelations of emissions cheating by Volkswagen – EU member states decided on 28 October that new diesel cars will be allowed to continue to exceed the Euro 6 emission limits for many years ahead.

The Euro 6 emission standards apply to all new passenger cars as from September 2014, and set an emission limit for nitrogen oxides (NOx) for diesel cars at 80 milligrams per kilometre (mg/km). But, according to the Commission, in real driving conditions new diesel cars actually emit on average five times more, i.e. around 400 mg/km.

At a meeting of the Technical Committee for Motor Vehicles, member states’ representatives have now agreed that a new real driving emissions (RDE) test will take effect from September 2017 for all newly approved types of diesel cars, and two years later for all new diesel cars.

On top of giving car producers this time delay of several years, the decision also allows for a continued gap between the laboratory test limit value of 80 mg NOx/km and the RDE test limit value. The latter limit value has been referred to as a not-to-exceed (NTE) emission limit.

So in the first step – in line with the dates given above – diesel cars will be allowed to emit 2.1 times the limit value, i.e. 168 mg NOx/km, and in the second step (from January 2020 for new models and January 2021 for all new diesel cars) they will still be allowed to surpass the limit value by 1.5 times, i.e. emissions should be kept below 120 mg NOx/km.

It is noticeable that the dates and limits adopted are much more generous to carmakers than those proposed by the Commission, which had suggested “conformity factors” of 1.6 for the first step in 2017 and 1.2 for the second step in 2019.

Just before the Technical Committee meeting, on 27 October, the European Parliament passed by a wide majority a resolution urging the Commission to adopt and put in place the new RDE test cycle without delay and with minimum flexibility, adding that these tests should be widened to include all pollutants.

“This is a scandalous and cynical decision by EU governments,” said Dutch MEP Bas Eickhout from the Green Party. “It shows they are not only keeping their heads in the sand with regard to the ongoing car emissions scandal, but that they are also willing to ignore the major and growing public health problems linked to air pollution. This new test is being marketed as a ‘real driving emissions’ test but it is a sham. It is instead a gift to car manufacturers who have made no effort to meet the EU’s car pollution rules.”

The draft regulation, as adopted by the Technical Committee for Motor Vehicles, has been sent to the European Parliament and the Council for regulatory scrutiny.

Commenting on the agreement, Greg Archer at Transport & Environment (T&E) said: “Citizens will wonder why their governments would rather help carmakers that cheat emissions tests than give them clean air to breathe. This disgraceful and legally questionable decision must be rejected by the European Parliament. It seems governments would rather citizens die as a result of diesel exhaust emissions than require carmakers to fit technology typically costing €100.”

According to T&E, changing EU air pollution legislation by this closed-door ‘comitology’ process is highly questionable legally. The Commission has argued that uncertainties in the testing method justify setting a higher long-term limit, but this could be legally challenged when the decision is scrutinised by the European Parliament, which could reject the proposed limits as going beyond the powers of the Commission and member states.
T&E says that the recent Dieselgate scandal is the tip of an emerging iceberg in terms of a systematic manipulation of vehicle tests, as 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.

In order to change this, T&E has proposed three key changes to the Type Approval Framework Directive that the Commission plans to reform:
– That the EU establishes 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 Environment Protection Agency. 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.
–  That the rules governing the type approval of vehicles must be strengthened so that National Type Approval Authorities operate a consistently high level of scrutiny.
–  That new RDE tests are introduced for CO₂ emissions and other air pollutants in addition to diesel NOx emissions. These tests should be implemented from 2017 and performed on the same cars as sold in dealerships.

Moreover, T&E concludes that 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.

Christer Ågren
Source 1: T&E comments 28 October and 4 November 2015. Link to blog: http://transenv.eu/1RSYlW9
Source 2: European Commission press release, 28 October 2015. Link to European Commission fact sheet: http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_MEMO-15-5705_en.htm

Note: See also T&E’s report ”Don’t breathe here: Tackling air pollution from vehicles.“ The report as well as an executive summary can be downloaded from: http://www.transportenvironment.org/publications/dont-breathe-here-tackl...


The VW diesel scandal:

On 18 September the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a notice of violation of the US Clean Air Act to Volkswagen, because a large number of VW and Audi cars from model years 2009 to 2015 equipped with 2.0 litre diesel engines had been found to contain software that circumvents the US air pollutant emission standards.

The software results in cars that meet emission standards in the laboratory tests, but during normal operation the cars emit between 10 and 40 times more NOx than the standard. The software is defined as a “defeat device” by the Clean Air Act.

A few days later, on 22 September, VW admitted that as many as 11 million vehicles equipped with this type of diesel engine worldwide could contain the test-defeating software. Of these, nearly half a million had been sold in the US and around 8.5 million in the EU.

According to calculations published in the Guardian on 23 September, assuming that the affected cars emit 10 to 40 times the NOx standard for new models in the US, VW’s defective vehicles could be responsible for between 237,000 and 949,000 additional tonnes of NOx emissions each year. For comparison, the total annual emissions of Sweden and Denmark combined amount to some 250,000 tonnes of NOx.


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