European countries reached a compromise deal on new testing rules for cars on Wednesday (28 November) that allows vehicles to carry on emitting more than twice the agreed pollution limits, despite an outcry caused by the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
The agreement, thrashed out in extended talks, diluted a proposal from the European Commission, after many of the 28 member states demanded leeway to protect the car industry.
EU sources, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Netherlands had been among a handful of countries seeking stricter rules, and it alone voted against the compromise as too weak.
Member states were deeply divided before the five hour meeting started. Among those calling for more latitude for the car industry, the German government said: “The diesel engine should be preserved as a powertrain option on the mass market.” Germany also said controls on enforcement of legal limits needed to be pragmatic.
The European Commission had heaped pressure on EU governments to reach a swift deal. Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said earlier on that day if member states could not agree, they would dent consumer confidence and have negative consequences for the automotive industry.
The Commission proposed that “real-world” testing should become operational starting next year, but would only take full effect after a two-year phase-in for new vehicles from 2017.
Initially nitrogen oxide (NOx) readings, primarily associated with diesel cars, could exceed an 80 milligramme/kilometre limit by 60 percent before falling to 20 percent.
Instead, the compromise agreed on Wednesday sets a “conformity factor” of 2.1 from late 2017, meaning cars could emit more than twice the official limit.
Two years later, it would fall to 1.5, the EU sources said, meaning vehicles could emit nitrogen oxides, associated with respiratory disease and premature death, up to 50 percent above the legal ceiling.
Volkswagen is battling the biggest business crisis in its 78-year history after admitting in September it installed software in diesel vehicles to deceive US regulators about toxic emissions.
In Europe, a failure to close the gap between NOx emissions in real driving conditions compared with tests, confirmed by European Commission research, has drawn unfavourable comparisons with Washington’s track record in policing business.