Car emissions: manufacturers and a former EU Commissioner quizzed by MEPs

the_car_pollute_the_air_with_CO2

The EU needs a common definition of “normal car use”, says Renault. Diesel engine NOx emissions are the price paid to hit lower CO2 targets, says the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association. But Volkswagen is ashamed of cheating to beat strict US emissions laws. So said contributors to the “triple bill” of hearings in held by the Committee of Inquiry into Emission Measurements in the Automotive Sector (EMIS) on Wednesday and Thursday. Its work will continue after the summer break.

On Wednesday morning, MEPs also unanimously approved an interim report, drafted by co-rapporteurs Pablo Zalba Bidegain (EPP, ES) and Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy (ALDE, NL), summarising the committee’s activities so far and outlining its work programme for the second half of its one-year mandate. The report is to be debated by Parliament as a whole on 13 September in Strasbourg.

Renault: legislator should define “normal conditions” for real-drive tests

Immediately after the vote, MEPs asked the Renault Group’s Executive Vice-President of in charge engineering Gaspar Gascon Abellan how manufacturers interpret EU legislation on emissions limits. He replied that “normal car use”, during which the vehicle should comply with emission standards, is too vague and should be clearly defined in EU rules.

Asked why Renault did not switch to the most efficient ways to reduce emissions earlier, when today’s standards were set, he explained that technology evolves constantly and that it takes 3 years to move from idea to product. Renault also has to consider car model life-spans of up to 10 years, he added.

Volkswagen: “we are ashamed and we apologise for deceiving customers”

Volkswagen Group Chief Technology Officer Ulrich Eichhorn, who took the post only after the emission test “defeat devices” scandal broke in the USA, pledged that VW is cooperating in all investigations and is committed to full transparency.

Asked how VW employees feel about the scandal, he replied “We are ashamed, we are demoralised and we apologise for deceiving our customers.” He affirmed that in Europe, VW’s diesel engine software does not manipulate test results, adding that it will be replaced anyway and that this should not affect the cars.

ACEA: reducing both CO2 and NOx emissions is a huge challenge

Emission and Fuels Director at the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) Paul Greening was grilled mostly about the issue of car manufacturers’ influence on drafting EU legislation. He predicted that measures to reduce diesel engine NOx emissions will eventually halt the trend towards smaller diesel car engines, because the challenge of packing all systems into a relatively small space, which might prove technically impossible to meet or simply too expensive.

Former Commissioner Dimas: “EU legislation is clear: a defeat device breaks the law”

EU Commissioner for the environment from 2004 to 2009 Stavros Dimas, the first Commission contributor to an EMIS hearing, explained that at that time, reducing air pollution was the main task of his department, which drafted legislation on new emissions standards, known as the Euro 5 and 6 regulations. These regulations were approved by the Commission in 2007.

Mr Dimas categorically rejected claims that the rules were ambiguous: “The VW case is fraud. Defeat devices are banned, the law is clear. Over-optimising exemptions is not in the spirit of the law – these should not be the rule.”

However, in further exchanges with MEPs, no clear agreement emerged on the issue of whether the “normal car use” definition might indeed be too vague.

Next steps

The committee will meet again on Tuesday, 30 August in the afternoon, when Günter Verheugen, Commissioner for enterprise and industry from 2004 to 2010 and Peter Lakin, Vice-President of Faurecia Emissions Control Technologies, will reply to MEPs’ questions.