Thursday

8th Dec 2016

Investigation

EU and US in talks on car emissions cheats

  • As a “modest American”, Grundler said he was “very reluctant to tell other countries what to do” (Photo: europarl.europa.eu)

Following the Volkswagen scandal, authorities from the EU, US, and other countries have set up an informal network to discuss how to prevent cheating by car companies.

A second meeting has been held recently in Ispra, Italy, Christopher Grundler of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) told members of the European Parliament's Dieselgate inquiry committee on Monday (26 September).

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“Our concrete plan is ... to have routine dialogue, to share information and experiences in the areas of compliance oversight, testing, and enforcement,” said Grundler, who is the EPA's director of the Office of Transportation and Air Quality.

“This past meeting we briefed our colleagues on where we stood with the VW matter, we shared ... some information about our new unpredictable testing, as well as advances we are making to make [tests] cheaper and more efficient, so we can do more of them.”

It was the second meeting under the new format, the first one having taken place in April in Ann Arbor in the American state of Michigan, at the EPA's office.

According to a second source, the Ispra meeting was attended by representatives from Germany, UK, France, Netherlands, Sweden, United States, Canada, Japan, South Korea, Brazil, as well as by officials from the European Commission's industry directorate-general, and its in-house science body, the Joint Research Centre, which hosted the meeting.

Grundler made his remarks as part of his testimony to the EU parliament's inquiry committee on emissions cheating.

MEPs have wondered for months why the Volkswagen Group (VW) scandal was revealed in the United States, and not in Europe, even though authorities on both sides of the Atlantic had the same information, including a crucial report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT).

One year ago, VW admitted to having used cheating software after it could not explain the much higher emissions on the road, compared to laboratory tests.

The case triggered questions about the effectiveness of the European system, which still has strong powers and responsibilities residing at the national level. By contrast, the EPA is a federal agency, acting independently from the American states.

Grundler noted that with 28 different member states, the EU has “a very different context”, which provides its own challenges.

Modest American

The official was being very diplomatic, joking that as a “modest American”, he was “very reluctant to tell other countries what to do”.

Nevertheless, those who listened between the lines heard indirect criticism of the relatively relaxed standpoint European regulators have taken towards car companies emitting beyond EU limits, in comparison to the treatment VW has received in the United States.

Dutch left-wing MEP Bas Eickhout, of the Greens group, asked Grundler about a German report, which recently revealed that 48 of 53 tested cars had higher emissions when the engine was warm, than when it was cold.

The report cast suspicions of those 48 cars having been tailored to the test, since laboratory emission tests in the EU are done with a cold engine.

From an engineering point of view such a result “does not make sense to me”, said Grundler.

Eickhout asked a follow-up question, on whether “this very particular behaviour, would that not constitute for you a reason to do more proper and deeper investigation into the matter?”.

“I know what you're trying to do here,” said Grundler, referring to Eickhout’s invitation for the US official to criticise the German transport ministry.

“I'll only say that both the ICCT and the state of California when they were testing these VW products, noticed this behaviour and that was counterintuitive, they kept asking probing questions as to why this should be so, and getting inadequate answers”, he said.

RDE

More generally, Grundler noted that the real-drive emissions (RDE) tests, which will be mandatory for carmakers as of next year, will not be enough.

“It is no simple matter to uncover cheating,” he said.

“It requires more than simply an RDE. It requires an RDE, it requires a competent laboratory, and it requires experienced engineers, to uncover this, and to know how to ask the right questions.”

Investigation

Why doesn't the EU have a road transport agency?

There are EU agencies covering maritime transport, aviation, and railways, but road transport never got its own. Some MEPs are now advocating one, to the chagrin of many member states.

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