Thursday

8th Dec 2016

Investigation

Fiat questions 'fantastical' EU emissions tests

  • FCA's diesel cars are 'absolutely state of the art', said its chief technology officer (Photo: Fiat)

A representative of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA) has questioned the methods of national governments who reported that FCA diesel cars were emitting far beyond EU limits when driving on the road.

“I have no explanation for these values. These values should not occur,” Harald Wester, FCA's chief technical officer, told MEPs at a hearing in Brussels on Monday (17 October).

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  • FCA's Harald Wester told MEPs its diesel cars are “absolutely state of the art”. (Photo: European Parliament)

He said some of the emission values reported by national authorities were “fantastical”.

He also said his opinions were based on a first-glance reading.

“I have no information about the test, about the conditions, about the state of the cars,” he told the MEPs.

Fiat has come under scrutiny as part of the Dieselgate affair.

Germany’s Volkswagen Group first admitted to having used cheating software in diesel cars in September 2015.

That prompted several EU states to test what cars emit on the road instead of in the 20-minute laboratory tests that cars normally undergo before they get their EU-wide approval.

Defeat device or not?

The German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA) has said a Fiat model had used an illegal defeat device which kicked into effect after 22 minutes - something which its Italian counterpart has denied. FCA is an Italian-American company.

The European Commission has been asked to mediate between the Germans and the Italians, and Wester told MEPs on the Dieselgate inquiry committee on Monday that he could not comment before the “mediation process” was finished.

But he did say that “our vehicles are definitely not bad performers”, adding that FCA's diesel cars are “absolutely state of the art”.

Despite his comments several government reports noted that the nitrogen oxides emission level of FCA models, like those of many other car producers, was much higher than the EU limits when driving them in the real world, instead of during the predefined 20-minute lab test.

Last April, the German transport ministry said in a report a Fiat Ducato model emitted four times the EU threshold during a real-world test when it was between 13C and 17C outdoors. During a test when outside temperature had dropped to 10C, the value was nine times as high.

An Alfa Romeo Giulietta emitted 7.8 times higher at 7C-8C.

The Italian transport ministry - whose report has not yet been officially published but was seen by EUobserver - also said several Fiat models were emitting more than twice the legal limit.

On Friday (14 October), the Netherlands Vehicle Authority published a report which noted that another FCA model, the Jeep Grand Cherokee van, was emitting between 6.9 and 12.2 times above the limit.

“I am not a philosopher, I'm an engineer. I need to know more about what has been done under which conditions, see all the parameters and then I can make a final judgement,” said Wester on Monday.

He added that the Jeep Cherokee tested had around 150,000 kilometres of driving on the odometer, implying that that would discredit the result.

It had 149,447 kilometres on the clock when the Dutch started testing, but this is still below the 160,000 kilometres during which the legislation required the emissions filter to be active.

The FCA official visibly annoyed several of the MEPs by dodging questions.

Dutch Liberal MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, who will be one of the co-writers of the inquiry committee's report, asked Wester if the company knew how much more nitrogen oxide was being emitted by its cars, which modulate the emissions filter system after 22 minutes.

“More, but still in the limits,” said Wester.

Gerbrandy: “Which limits?”

Wester: “The legal limits.”

Gerbrandy reminded Wester that, according to the FCA's legal analysis, only the 20-minute lab test matters, “so there is no legal limit after 20 minutes”.

“I don't know. I think I answered all your questions,” Wester said.

He made several MEPs chuckle by saying that he believed the car industry in general did not tune cars to pass the test.

“Everybody sticks to the rules,” Fiat’s Wester said.

Trying to hide

The most active Italian member of the committee, Eleonora Evi, told EUobserver after the hearing that she saw a “car manufacturer that is trying to hide its responsibility”.

“I'm quite angry,” said Evi, who is a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement party, and who sits with the eurosceptic Ukip group in the EU parliament.

She said FCA's answers were “too vague”, and that the company has been trying to “confuse” the MEPs.

“We have also a lot of good things to show,” said Evi about Italian industrial capability. “But today hasn't been a nice showing of that Italian know-how. This has been awful,” she said.

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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