Carmakers urge EU to delay new emissions limits by a year

European carmakers have lobbied behind the scenes in Brussels for a one-year delay to the introduction of planned EU limits on nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions, despite public uproar at the VW rigging scandal.

NOx pollution, particularly from nitrogen dioxide, is responsible for 23,500 premature deaths in the UK every year, and the EU wants to introduce an 80mg per km emissions limit for all new cars and vans from 1 September 2018.

But in a sharply worded letter to EU ministers, who met in Luxembourg on Thursday (1 October), seen by the Guardian, the head of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (Acea), Carlos Ghosn, said the timetable was unrealistic.

Short-term improvements were possible for the approval of new car designs by September 2017, he said, “but not before September 2019 for all new registrations”.

Sources say Volkswagen’s Herbert Diess relayed the same message to the EU’s industry Commissioner, El?bieta Bie?kowska, at a meeting on Tuesday (29 September).

The European Commission is aiming to have real world driving emissions (RDE) monitoring measures in place by next year, which could then be applied to all new vehicles by autumn 2018.

A letter sent to ministers by Bie?kowswka, dated 25 September and also seen by the Guardian, says “the emissions fraud by Volkswagen in the US has rattled everyone” and promises that the commission will show “zero tolerance on fraud”.

Bie?kowska says: “We will have to assess whether there is a need for further strengthening these draft (RDE) proposals in the light of the investigation into the VW case.”

>>Read: Emissions scandal: how the drive for diesel ran out of gas

At present, nine out of 10 diesel cars on Europe’s roads are breaking the EU’s pollution limits, with the average vehicle emitting seven times more NOx than European law permits. Revelations that VW has used “defeat devices” in tests to artificially lower recorded emissions of NOx and other pollutants have thrown the issue into stark relief.

But in an apparent suggestion that US regulators had ulterior motives for their investigation of the German carmaker, Ghosn’s letter said: “We understand that the US wants to challenge the leadership role that European manufacturers have taken globally in this technology, which has created jobs across the entire supply chain in Europe.”

One EU source described the notion that regulators were out to get European car manufacturers as “absurd”. Greg Archer, the vehicles programme manager at the NGO Transport and Environment, which works extensively on diesel pollution issues, said: “Whilst automakers claim diesel cars are already clean, they are asking industry ministers to delay when new emissions rules apply to new sales. It’s time for carmakers to clean up their act and their vehicles.”

The Acea letter, which is signed by Ghosn and dated 29 September, appears to be a far reaching attempt to reset the EU’s agenda on vehicle emissions. At one point, he complains to the ministers that “the current debate related to the use of ‘defeat devices’ is being confused with the important discussion on how to better measure real emissions values”.

He said the outcome of the conversation could impact upon a vast amount of diesel-powered vehicles produced in Europe.

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