Commission car emissions testing won’t have muscle like US watchdog

The European Commission doesn't have the infrastructure to test vehicles like the US Environmental Protection Agency. [Flickr/Martin Cathrae]

Commission officials told MEPs in the Environment Committee (ENVI) yesterday (23 February) that the executive doesn’t have the resources to police the car industry like the US authorities that caught Volkswagen’s emissions cheating last year.

“This is enormous work, it requires an enormous amount of infrastructure that we at the JRC don’t have,” said Alois Krasenbrink during an ENVI hearing. Krasenbrink heads up the sustainable transport unit at the Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC).

MEPs questioned whether the Commission will test large numbers of vehicles for emissions cheating. The European Parliament last month approved the executive’s new powers to test vehicles and sanction manufacturers. Under those rules, the JRC will work with the European Commission to probe cars available in Europe for compliance with emissions regulations.

Commission officials said the new rules will give the executive authority to become like the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

But the EU won’t take on the same tough testing powers as the US agency: officials maintain that the JRC will test vehicles as a second line of defence after member states’ national probes.

“We are not a technical service, we are still a research organisation,” Krasenbrink said.

“We can check type approvals that have been done by member state type approval authorities. We can check the in-service conformity claims and we can try some market surveillance activities that would support the Commission to test whether or not the current system as it is is still a valid one”.

The EPA runs five different tests on passenger vehicles in the US market. New EU rules set to take effect next year would introduce the second track of EU-wide vehicle testing.

Campaigners have criticised member states’ national authorities for failing to catch doctored reporting of car emissions. Under the new EU rules, the Commission can sanction authorities caught turning a blind eye to cheating.

A delegation from the EPA met with European Commission officials and MEPs three weeks ago, days before the Parliament approved controversial real driving emissions rules, which will allow cars to continue emitting pollutants over the legal limit.

“I spoke with the EPA like many other colleagues two or three weeks ago in Strasbourg and I was pleasantly surprised that they told me a large part of the test is simply a secret,” said Dutch ALDE MEP Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (D66).

Several MEPs slammed the new EU emissions tests for being too predictable and easy to manoeuvre.

“The EPA is doing in-service compliance so a car on the street is being measured and sometimes indeed a surprise measure in order to make sure that you deliver the clear air that is required. In Europe we’re still not doing that,” said Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout (GroenLinks).

The new regulation on real driving emissions testing “reads like a book for the car industry: ‘this is how you can comply’”, he said.

But according to Krasenbrink, the JRC will test vehicles without warning.

“It is a kind of secret testing what we are doing. We’re not telling what we are doing and we’re not telling who and what car will be tested so this allows us to come up at the same level as the EPA,” Krasenbrink said.

The one speaker from the car industry at the ENVI hearing told MEPs that European auto manufacturers have asked the Commission to enforce testing rules like the EPA’s on the industry.

“At the early stages of the discussion on this new testing we had proposed ourselves to look at what was happening in the US and eventually to copy-paste what was already known and available in the US. At that point in time the Commission decided to go for their own system and their own testing methods,” said Erik Jonnaert, secretary general of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA).

The Commission has promised to introduce real driving emissions tests since 2012.

Two out of four parts of the European Commission’s real driving emissions package have already been rubber-stamped by the Parliament. A Commission source said the third package will be presented to member states by the end of this year, while the final part will go into negotiations in early 2017.

Eickhout told EURACTIV the hearing was important to “keep pressure on the Commission and Member States while they are further working on the other two RDE packages, which should result in ‘in-service compliance’, meaning that cars should meet the standards in any driving situation, checked irregularly by a much tougher law enforcement”.

Commission wants new powers to police car industry after VW scandal

The European Commission today (27 January) proposed a new regulation to overhaul how national authorities approve car types – four months after the Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal rocked EU lawmakers.

Read more with EURACTIV

US regulators found that Volkswagen designed software for close to half a million diesel cars that gave false emissions data during the laboratory tests. Experts consider that tests on the road are more difficult to be cheated.

In Europe, while the European Commission and the national authorities are preparing more strict emissions limits, a number of inquiries have already been opened in France.

But the executive seems reluctant to open any kind of inquiry. El?bieta Bie?kowska, the Internal Market Commissioner, has upset MEPs by saying that the executive intends not to act until the member states have conducted their own national investigations.

The presidents of the European Parliament´s Environment, Transport, Internal Market and Industry committees have decided to investigate how Volkswagen cars could have cheated the testing system without the fraud being picked up at any stage by the European Commission.

  • January 2016: Car makers must start measuring NOx levels on the road.
  • February 2016: European Parliament inquiry committee Emission Measurements in the Automotive Sector to meet for the first time.
  • end of 2016: Commission will negotiate third part of real driving emissions package with member states representatives in the technical committee for motor vehicles
  • early 2017: Commission will negotiate fourth and final part of real driving emissions package with member states representatives in the technical committee for motor vehicles
  • September 2017: The new tests are taken into account to authorize the vehicles, although there will be a phase-in period with some leeway for the sector.
  • December 2019: Full implementation of the new rules.

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