Tuesday

28th Mar 2017

Investigation

Experts question EU decision to sit on emissions test results

  • A testing laboratory at the Joint Research Centre's site in Italy (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Experts on car emissions testing cannot understand why the European Commission has not shared controversial test results on Audi and Citroen cars, with relevant national authorities, after four months.

The commission said the results, dated for August, are not yet "solid enough" and that it needs time to validate the "preliminary results."

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“What is there to validate? If it's tested, it's tested,” one source with expert knowledge of emissions testing, who could not be named, told EUobserver.

The contact said that the EU's in-house science body, Joint Research Centre (JRC), which carried out the measurements, knows its own testing technology well and that therefore the commission's stance was “odd”.

The JRC has a good reputation in the scientific community and has years of experience with emissions testing, both in laboratories as well as on road.

In August, the JRC found high emissions in Citroen and Audi diesel vehicles after slightly changing the parameters of the official approval test.

“I cannot assess what they are still waiting for,” said Dirk Bosteels, an emissions expert who testified before the European Parliament's inquiry committee into the Dieselgate scandal earlier this year.

“But four months between measurements and finalising the report seems a bit long to me,” Bosteels told EUobserver.

The JRC's results, seen by EUobserver, did not prove emissions cheating, but the results suggested that the cars were designed only to pass the test, instead of fulfilling EU emissions criteria during normal driving behaviour.

Yet, four months later the commission has not yet shared them with relevant approval authorities in charge of enforcing and investigating the rules on emissions.

“It is up to us to judge when the results are sufficiently solid and technically verified to be shared,” said commission spokeswoman Lucia Caudet.

“We believe that it is best to share these results with the national authorities when they are completely technically validated. That's a process that is currently ongoing,” said spokeswoman Caudet.

“When the results are solid enough, we will share them,” she added.

The test results included detailed information about the average emissions per pollutant for ten different types of test methods.

It is unclear what still needs validation.

Commission spokeswoman Caudet did not clearly explain why the validation process has taken four months. “Technical experts are working on them,” she said.

MEPs asked for it

EUobserver also asked why the commission decided to send the data to the EU parliament's inquiry committee in October, but not to national authorities with enforcement powers.

“We have sent preliminary measurements to the European Parliament's inquiry committee on car emissions at their request, with a big caveat that they are preliminary results,” said Caudet.

She said that the commission did so because the parliament has “particular powers to request information from us”.

“If an inquiry committee requests certain information, they will get it. I would also say: be careful what you ask for, you only get preliminary results. They are what they are: preliminary,” she said.

Caudet refused to be drawn on if a national authority had asked for the preliminary results.

Suggestion of cheating

The results show that the Audi and Citroen cars tested, comply with EU emissions norms only during the official test, but not during normal driving conditions.

This means that they are likely emitting more toxic pollutants than allowed.

If the cars were explicitly designed to only pass the test, the relevant carmakers may have used illegal cheating software, of the type the Volkswagen Group used.

But the national type approval authorities need to be officially informed of suspicions, so they can investigate the respective cars that they approved, and decide if a recall is needed.

Spokeswoman Caudet said the commission is wrapping up the internal assessment “as soon as possible”.

Dieselgate report 'cannot be ignored'

“Dieselgate could have been avoided if member states and the Commission had followed European law. That is quite something,” rapporteur said.

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