Dieselgate researcher says Commission overhaul won’t bring big change

Five German car manufacturers are under pressure after the European Commission said it is investigating a potential cartel [Wikimedia]

One of the researchers that put Volkswagen’s emissions cheating on the map said the European Commission’s proposal to more strictly police the car industry won’t deliver ‘fundamental change’.

“What is being proposed in Europe is not a fundamental change. There will not be a central authority,” said Vicente Franco of the month-old type approval proposal to rein in national authorities around Europe and give the Commission new oversight powers.

Franco’s research with the International Council on Clean Transportation led US watchdogs to investigate Volkswagen. That spiralled into the scandal that forced the company to recall millions of vehicles that were outfitted with emissions doctoring devices.

Critics have slammed EU car emissions regulations for being much less strict than laws in the US. Diesel cars—like the Volkswagen models that were caught with cheating devices—make up a significantly larger part of the European market.

In Europe, Franco said, “on-road NOx emissions of modern diesel cars are on average higher than for heavy duty trucks”.

After the Volkswagen scandal broke, the Commission fast-tracked its proposal to introduce tests that measure cars’ real driving emissions and introduced another bill to give the executive new oversight powers over national type approval authorities.

A special inquiry committee in the European Parliament is holding its first meeting today (2 March) and will investigate how the executive has handled the emissions cheating scandal.

Franco met yesterday with MEPs from different political groups, including some who are in the inquiry committee.

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“The risk is that if the enforcement practices are not harmonised, then the manufacturers will still be able to cherry pick the national type approval that is more sympathetic and more lenient,” he said of the type approval proposal.

Franco and other researchers revealed that Luxembourg’s car type approval authorities green-light one fifth of all cars in Europe, although no cars are manufactured in the country.

The European Commission’s proposal to reform the type approval system would give the executive new powers to sanction national authorities caught turning a blind eye to car manufacturers’ cheating.

The bill will also keep manufacturers from directly paying the type approval authorities of their choice to carry out tests.

EU Internal Market Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska has said there is no need to set up a new EU agency to oversee Europe’s car industry.

But critics argue the Commission won’t have the resources or authority to rein in national regulators around the EU and prevent another emissions cheating scandal.

“The Volkswagen scandal is truly a game changer. I don’t think it will put us at the same level that they are at in the US because they have a centralised authority such as the EPA, which has tremendous powers and resources to do its job,” Franco said.

EURACTIV previously reported that a delegation from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) met with Commission officials and MEPs last month ahead of the Parliament’s vote on regulations for real driving emissions testing.

US 'Dieselgate' watchdog met Commission and MEPs head of key emissions vote

Officials from the US environmental watchdog that uncovered the Volkswagen emissions scandal paid a visit to Brussels last week – amid the European Parliament’s hot-button vote on real driving emissions.

Under the type approval bill, the executive’s scientific research unit, the Joint Research Centre (JRC) will be tasked with testing cars that are available on the market in Europe. The draft regulation, which still needs to go through negotiations with the Council and Parliament, does not include a budget increase for the JRC when it takes on its new testing role.

A Commission spokesperson declined to specify how many JRC employees will be running emissions tests.

Franco, who previously worked at the JRC as an engineer, said the research centre would “probably need more investment” to test a significant number of cars.

“They’re doing good work, that is for sure. But it depends on the workload. If they were to screen 10% of the European fleet that might be a stretch,” Franco added.

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.

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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