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16th Nov 2018

VW scandal could prompt agreement on new tests

  • EU commissioner Dombrovskis visiting an Audi factory in Brussels. How much did EU politicians know about emissions cheating? (Photo: European Commission)

The Volkswagen emissions testing scandal may speed up stalled EU talks on more accurate tests, as the shock waves of the scandal continue to reverberate in Europe.

One of Volkswagen's top executives will be in Brussels on Tuesday (29 September) to discuss the emissions testing scandal with EU industry commissioner, Elzbieta Bienkowska.

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  • Volkswagen's Wolfsburg factory in the 1960s. (Photo: Roger W)

Two days later, Bienkowska will discuss the issue with EU competition ministers in Luxembourg. The scandal was not put on the formal agenda of the meeting, but it will be debated over lunch.

Last week, Bienkowska said there would be "zero tolerance on fraud and rigorous compliance with EU rules" - the so-called defeat devices which Volkswagen used to mislead tests have been illegal under EU legislation since 2007.

"We need full disclosure and robust pollutant emissions tests in place", Bienkowska.

However, the Commission and member state governments are under increasing criticism for failing to see the scandal coming, or worse, to have turned a blind eye under pressure from car industry lobbyists.

In 1998, Swedish researcher Per Kageson already wrote about the technologies that allow cars to pass the emission test without having lower pollution levels in the real world. He told the New York Times that nothing was done to "make it much more difficult for manufacturers to beat the tests".

"There was great unwillingness among politicians and in the European Commission and, of course, resistance from manufacturers, who were very content with the existing system", noted Kageson.

And in 2013, a report by the Commission's Joint Research Centre warned that the tests could be misled by defeat devices, but no subsequent action was taken.

On Monday, Volkswagen daughter Audi announced 1.42 million of its cars in Western Europe had been outfitted with defeat devices.

In the wake of the scandal, there may be more political will to close the gap between laboratory emissions testing and on-the-road testing.

German environment minister Barbara Hendricks told Handelsblatt newspaper about "new, honest measuring methods" that are required.

"We can't just rely on tests in the lab", Hendricks added.

According to the Commission, a new Real Driving Emission test procedure will be phased in from early 2016, as a complementary test measure to the lab tests.

"But we still need to find agreement on the type approval treatment in case of major divergence between the results of the laboratory and real driving pollutant emissions tests", the Commission said in a statement recently.

Meanwhile, court cases against Volkswagen are being prepared.

In the US, several consumers have decided to sue. In Europe, the Flemish environmental minister Joke Schauvliege announced on Monday that Flanders would sue. And Switzerland has taken the step of completely banning the sale of affected models of Volkswagen diesel cars.

German authorities are investigating the ousted Volkswagen CEO Martin Winterkorn.

The PR disaster may also affect the portfolio of the European Central Bank (ECB).

The FT reported on Sunday that the ECB has suspended buying loan bundles that are backed by Volkswagen assets, until it decides whether the company's assets are too risky.

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