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16th Feb 2019

EU countries resist car lobby on new emissions tests

  • The EU commission's Vehicle Emissions Test Laboratory in Ispra, Italy (Photo: European Commission)

A lobbying effort to delay the introduction of a new testing method for car emissions has failed, as EU countries on Tuesday (14 June) decided to stick to the starting date proposed by the EU Commission.

The current test being used in laboratories is outdated and there are huge discrepancies between test results and emissions in the real world.

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  • In this Commission building in Brussels, the Technical Committee - Motor Vehicles met Tuesday to decide on the introduction date of the WLTP test (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The commission proposed to start applying the new test from 1 September 2017, but environmental groups feared member states would give the car industry a year respite.

EU commission spokeswoman Lucia Caudet told EUobserver on Wednesday that a qualified majority of member states supported the commission's proposal, saying they adopted “a new, more realistic, test procedure for measuring CO2 emissions and fuel consumption from cars and vans”.

“The new test will be a strong incentive for the deployment of low-carbon mobility technologies,” she said.

WLTP: Less loopholes

The new test is called the Worldwide harmonised Light vehicles Test Procedures (WLTP) and it will replace the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC), first introduced in 1970.

Tests consist of a succession of strictly fixed actions, like accelerating, braking, and standing idle.

The current tests allow carmakers to optimise their cars for the test, a 2014 research paper by the International Council on Clean Transportation explained.

“Even though this is not illegal, strictly speaking, it contradicts the intentions of the original NEDC regulations,” the authors wrote.

“When switching from NEDC to WLTP, which limits these flexibilities and closes 'loopholes' in the NEDC procedure, CO2 emission values will become more representative of real-world driving and customers will benefit from these improved values.”

CO2 measurements

The WLTP method is most relevant for measuring emissions of CO2, a greenhouse gas contributing to potentially disastrous climate change.

The gap between lab results and real-world emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOx), which causes air pollution that can damage health, is being bridged by a new on-the-road test, called the real driving emissions test (RDE).

Both RDE and the WLTP will be introduced on 1 September 2017.

As of that date, national authorities will no longer be allowed hand out the certificates carmakers need to put their cars on the market if the car hasn't been tested with the WLTP method. Cars that have received their certificate between now and 1 September 2017 may be sold until 1 September 2018.

The decision took place behind closed doors at a meeting of the Technical Committee – Motor Vehicles.

The same technical committee was also responsible for the vote on the RDE, last October. Environmental groups criticised that diesel carmakers will be allowed to exceed EU limits by a factor of 2.1 until 2020.

The European Parliament was not directly involved, but has three months to raise objections. It can only accept or reject the decision.

"The adoption of this new test is a big win for consumers. They have been demanding more realistic information about the fuel consumption and emissions performance of their cars for years," said the Brussels-based consumer lobby group BEUC in a statement on Wednesday.

Environmental group Transport & Environment (T&E) was also happy.

“We congratulate Commissioner [for industry Elzbieta] Bienkowska and her team on standing firm against the pressure of some member states that are under the thumb of the car industry," T&E said in a statement.

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