Thursday

19th Oct 2017

EU cautious with German diesel plan

  • "We will be looking into whether the proposed software updates will be sufficient to reduce NOx emissions below the existing limits," the European Commission said. (Photo: EULEX, Enisa Kasemi)

The European Commission has taken a wait-and-see approach after the German car industry pledged to make diesel cars less polluting.

On Wednesday, at a meeting with politicians in Berlin, BMW, Daimler, Opel and Volkswagen agreed to recall 5.3 million cars to update their software, in order to reduce the emissions of toxic nitrogen oxides (NOx).

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The number of cars includes some 2.5 million vehicles already called back by Volkswagen after it was reveal that the company had equipped its diesel cars with defeat devices to cheat emissions tests.

The EU executive on Thursday welcomed an effort to "finally restore consumer trust and reduce risk to public health" in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal.

But it added that the agreement was only "a very initial step".

"We will be looking into whether the proposed software updates will be sufficient to reduce NOx emissions below the existing limits," commission spokeswoman Vanessa Mock told journalists.

She insisted that the German type approval authority (KBA), which will validate the fixes, should ensure that the emissions reduction is "measured and proven through more accurate real driving emissions testing, not just in the laboratory."

Real driving emissions testing (RDE) will be mandatory for new cars from 1 September, as a means to avoid what happened with Dieselgate - tampered laboratory tests that allow cars to go on the road with emissions levels exceeding regulatory limits.

In a letter sent to EU governments last month, EU industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said that "non-compliant cars" would have to be removed from the market and circulation "as soon as possible".

Commission officials noted on Thursday that since the German carmakers' initiative is voluntary, they could go further and commit themselves to fixing the existing cars so that they respect the emissions limits on the road and not just in laboratories.

The carmakers also pledged to reduce average NOx emissions by 25-30 percent. But the technical details will be designed by a working group, which will be set up by the German authorities.

Commission officials noted that it is difficult at the moment to assess to what extent the 25-30-percent target is feasible.

"We first need to better understand the details of the proposals," an official said.

Referring to car parts, such as the motor or the exhaust pipe, the official added that "hardware fixes might be needed in certain cases" and the commission would "strongly encourage German authorities to consider adding hardware measures."

"Genuinely clean diesel, producing as little air pollution as a modern gasoline engine, is technically possible for new cars but not cost-effective to retrofit into existing vehicles," Transport & Environment, a Brussels-based NGO, said in a statement.

The NGO insisted that an "important next step" would be a new standard for cars to end new diesel vehicles’ "license to pollute".

Investigation

Diesel cars still dirty, despite huge EU loans

The European Investment Bank lent billions to carmakers, in part to clean up diesel cars. But diesel cars are still dirty, prompting questions if the money was well spent.

Interview

Dieselgate disappointed car-loving commissioner

Industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska often finds herself on opposite sides to the car industry, referring to diesel engines as the "technology of the past".

Schulz mauls Merkel as German vote nears

Merkel has “lost touch” with ordinary people, does not know how to handle Dieselgate, and is too soft on Turkey, her main election rival has said.

Macron puts trade policy on summit table

France's president wants a "political discussion" on EU trade policies at Thursday's summit, amid domestic concerns over Canada and South America deals. But his colleagues are likely to avoid a lengthy debate.

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