Monday

19th Oct 2020

Investigation

EU never used power to scrutinise car-testing labs

  • Germany's Tuv Süd is one of Europe's companies that carry out tests. Countries are required to assess the companies, but the commission has never requested the reports (Photo: TÜV SÜD)

The European Commission wants new powers to oversee the way new cars are approved before they are sold, but it has never used a key scrutinising power it has had for more than eight years, the EUobserver has learned.

Under current rules, the commission can ask a member state to submit assessments of the test facilities that carry out certification tasks including emissions testing.

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But this website learned from a freedom of information request that the commission has never asked for such a report, raising questions about its proposal in January that it should be given more powers.

In order to be allowed to sell a car on the European market, manufacturers need to obtain a certificate, a so-called type approval.

These are handed out by national authorities like the Vehicle Certification Agency (VCA) in the UK or the Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt (KBA) in Germany.

However, most of the authorities outsource the actual testing to private companies.

These companies, designated as so-called technical services, have come under scrutiny in the past nine months since it emerged that they had been unable to detect Volkswagen Group (VW) using software to fool the emissions test.

Since these companies are paid directly by car makers, critics of the system are worried there is a conflict of interest.

According to a 2007 directive, national governments are in charge of making sure that the technical services have the proper skills and technical knowledge to do their job.

The directive required member states to demonstrate those skills by providing an assessment report, at least once every three years.

“The assessment report shall be communicated to the commission upon request,” the legislation said.

This website filed a freedom of information request with the commission on 12 April, and asked for all assessment reports the commission had so far received.

On Monday (30 May), the commission told this website that it never had received such documents.

“We regret to inform you that no documents were found that would correspond to the description given in your application,” the commission's directorate for industry said in a letter.

That's because the commission never asked for them.

'No reason for doubt'

"We have not had reason to question the technical capability of technical services," EU commission spokeswoman Lucia Caudet told this website.

"Our focus is on improving the testing methodology and the independence of testing.

"We are introducing robust tests to measure emissions in real driving conditions, and will keep refining and reviewing the tests to ensure the strictest emissions limits are really met.

"We have also tabled a full overhaul of the type approval system, including proposals to avoid potential conflicts of interest of technical services, more stringent performance criteria, and regular and independent audits."

If the proposal, which needs approval from member states and the EU parliament, is adopted, the commission would be granted the power “to suspend, restrict or withdraw the designation of technical services that are under-performing and too lax in applying the rules”.

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The Volkswagen scandal has convinced the EU executive to seek greater powers. "We have to make sure this never happens again," said commissioner Katainen.

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