Tuesday

19th Nov 2019

Investigation

Car makers caught out on dodgy EU claim

  • Barcelona is often just as warm as emissions test laboratories (20C-30C), but many European places are not (Photo: Julian Cosson)

Witnesses speaking on behalf of the automotive industry have given testimonies to the European Parliament's Dieselgate committee that are inconsistent with information known to the industry for years.

On 13 and 14 July, MEPs questioned representatives of Renault Group and the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) as part an their inquiry set up after the Volkswagen emissions fraud scandal.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 year's of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

  • Some of Renault's diesel cars would let the anti-pollution system work less hard when it was colder than 17C outside (Photo: Warren Rohner)

But the issue of too-high emissions reaches beyond just Volkswagen Group.

Diesel cars of all brands and types, that have passed the EU-required emissions test, emit many times more the EU limit when driving on the road.

MEPs asked Paul Greening, of the Brussels-based lobby group ACEA, whether car manufacturers think they should comply to the EU limits in real life, or only in the laboratory.

“We believe the emission limits are related to the test procedures,” said Greening.

Greening is himself a former official of the European Commission, amid broader concerns that the EU institution has too-cozy relations with big business.

This website found minutes of a meeting that Greening attended in 2004, when he said the opposite to his new testimony.

At the time, Greening was still working for the European Commission. He attended a meeting in London with representatives from the United States, Japan, and various European countries, to discuss a global law on real-world emissions from trucks.

The meeting was part of the so-called Off-Cycle Emissions Work Group. Off-cycle means: not during the predefined driving cycle used during testing.

They discussed whether the global regulation should require vehicle manufacturers to provide a compliance statement, effectively promising that they had complied with emission limits.

The German representative said the statement should include “in-use compliance”, or real-world driving.

“Mr. Paul Greening of the EU agreed that this was an important policy objective. Certification testing is only a part of the picture; the true information comes from in-use,” the minutes said, however.

Discussions by the same work group, held several years ago, also contradicted the statements to the EU enquiry by Renault Group's executive vice president engineering, Gaspar Gascon Abellan.

Renault was one of the companies that put diesel cars on the market whose emissions filter switched off, or turned down, when outside temperatures drop below a certain level.

That had never been noticed because the emissions tests took place in laboratories that always had a stable temperature of between 20C and 30C.

(Photo: Transport & Environment)

The Renault Group’s anti-pollution system only worked at full power when it was 17C or warmer outside. If the outside temperature dropped, as it often does in Europe, the system gradually became less effective.

Critics have said this conflicted with EU legislation, which said emissions control systems should work during normal use of the car.

Renault's Gascon told MEPs’ that normal use was not clearly defined in EU rules, though he would not say if he thought temperatures below 17C were abnormal in Europe.

What is normal?

“I'm not going to answer the question what normal conditions are … I can't judge what normal is,” he said.

Renault is being backed up by the German transport ministry, which last April said, in a controversial statement, that normal use is “linguistically very vague [and] allows room for interpretation”.

Germany’s recluse to the vagueness of EU laws came despite 13 years of talks between international regulators, often in the presence of industry, on the issue of normal conditions under which anti-pollution systems should work.

To illustrate the point, in a meeting in 2003 of the Off-Cycle Emissions Work Group in Canada, Stefan Rodt, of the German federal environmental agency, gave a presentation in which he said industry should not look for loopholes or freedom of interpretation.

According to the minutes, Rodt said “engines must comply with emission requirements in any randomly selected mode of operation, under almost all ambient conditions which may occur in real life”.

Maybe Renault and ACEA’s top brass never read those minutes.

But if they did, then their comments to the EU enquiry would be indefensible.

ACEA paper

The 2003 EU emissions group meeting was not an isolated example.

In 2005, the International Organisation of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers (OICA), a Paris-based entity, gave a presentation on “EU Normal operating conditions”, based on a 2002 paper from none other than ACEA.

Together with the Aristotle University in Tessaloniki, Greece, ACEA had analysed under which temperature and altitude 90 percent of vehicle-kilometres in the EU were actually driven by people.

The study found that a maximum altitude of 1,000 metres, and a temperature range of 2C to 30C should be considered normal.

It noted that under EU legislation at the time, the range was 10C-30C, and that the lower end should be lowered to 2C.

This discussion was related to emissions from trucks.

But in all good faith, there is no difference in what are normal outside conditions for truck or for other means of transport in Europe.

A 2012 discussion paper circulated among the participants of Cars 21, an initiative of the EU Commission which included members of industry, made no distinction between the two.

The paper said on passenger cars that “compliance with regulatory emission limits was not linked to a test cycle but to 'normal conditions of use' of a vehicle”.

Laws to make clean labs?

If the case ever came to court, judges would also look at the spirit of the legislation.

In that sense, the regulation which laid down the emission limits for passenger cars is clear.

The preamble says that “a considerable reduction in nitrogen oxide emissions from diesel vehicles is necessary to improve air quality and comply with limit values for pollution”.

In other words, the aim of the rules is to clean up the air on the roads and streets of Europe, not just in laboratories.

News in Brief

  1. Hungary's new commissioner approved by MEPs
  2. Balkan coal power plants fail to meet emissions targets
  3. Belarus vote: zero opposition candidates elected
  4. Germany: Tehran should hold dialogue with protesters
  5. US ex-diplomat: Trump's 'historical mistake' on EU
  6. France's MoDem finance director indicted on EP funds
  7. Cyprus hopes for reunification talks in December
  8. Russian link to €406m crypto disappearance

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  3. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture
  5. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  6. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  7. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  9. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  10. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues
  11. Nordic Council of MinistersNo evidence that social media are harmful to young people
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCanada to host the joint Nordic cultural initiative 2021

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Vote for the EU Sutainable Energy AwardsCast your vote for your favourite EUSEW Award finalist. You choose the winner of 2019 Citizen’s Award.
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersEducation gets refugees into work
  3. Counter BalanceSign the petition to help reform the EU’s Bank
  4. UNICEFChild rights organisations encourage candidates for EU elections to become Child Rights Champions
  5. UNESDAUNESDA Outlines 2019-2024 Aspirations: Sustainability, Responsibility, Competitiveness
  6. Counter BalanceRecord citizens’ input to EU bank’s consultation calls on EIB to abandon fossil fuels
  7. International Partnership for Human RightsAnnual EU-Turkmenistan Human Rights Dialogue takes place in Ashgabat
  8. Nordic Council of MinistersNew campaign: spot, capture and share Traces of North
  9. Nordic Council of MinistersLeading Nordic candidates go head-to-head in EU election debate
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersNew Secretary General: Nordic co-operation must benefit everybody
  11. Platform for Peace and JusticeMEP Kati Piri: “Our red line on Turkey has been crossed”
  12. UNICEF2018 deadliest year yet for children in Syria as war enters 9th year

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic commitment to driving global gender equality
  2. International Partnership for Human RightsMeet your defender: Rasul Jafarov leading human rights defender from Azerbaijan
  3. UNICEFUNICEF Hosts MEPs in Jordan Ahead of Brussels Conference on the Future of Syria
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic talks on parental leave at the UN
  5. International Partnership for Human RightsTrial of Chechen prisoner of conscience and human rights activist Oyub Titiev continues.
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic food policy inspires India to be a sustainable superpower
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersMilestone for Nordic-Baltic e-ID
  8. Counter BalanceEU bank urged to free itself from fossil fuels and take climate leadership
  9. Intercultural Dialogue PlatformRoundtable: Muslim Heresy and the Politics of Human Rights, Dr. Matthew J. Nelson
  10. Platform for Peace and JusticeTurkey suffering from the lack of the rule of law
  11. UNESDASoft Drinks Europe welcomes Tim Brett as its new president
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers take the lead in combatting climate change

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us