BRUSSELS – The introduction of the European Union’s nascent real-driving emissions test, using onboard-vehicle portable-emissions-measurement-systems devices rather than laboratories to measure tailpipe output, is under threat.
The European Parliament’s influential environment, public health and food safety committee votes 40-9 to veto the proposed test, with 13 abstentions. But for the RDE to be blocked outright, that result must be backed by a majority of parliament’s 751 members, or by 376, when the full house votes on the issue in January.
If that happens, the European Commission, the EU executive, would be sent back to the drawing board to draw up a test and associated rules that could be authorized for use within the EU. It probably would mean the test would not be operational for assessing new-car models that are to be released by Sept. 1, 2017. The resolution passed by the committee demands that the Commission makes a replacement real-driving-emissions proposal by April 1, 2016.
Of particular concern to the lawmakers is the so-called conformity factor for nitrogen-oxide emissions, a tolerance which means vehicles could emit 110% over the EU’s current NOx limit of 80 (mg/km), going down to 50% more from September 2020 for new models and a year later for all new cars.
The EC says the tolerance is needed to account for technical uncertainties with the portable-emissions-measurement-systems devices, but lawmakers on the committee argue the EU executive itself recognizes (based on analysis from its Joint Research Centre) that the maximum margin of measurement error with PEMS is 30%, and the average 18.75%.
The EC, however, is sticking to its guns with a spokeswoman telling WardsAuto the test, which EU member states backed overwhelmingly in late October during a technical committee meeting of their representatives “will have a net effect on the amount of air pollution emitted by cars.
“Today’s divergence will be brought down from the current average of 400% to 110% from September 2017 and to 50% from January 2020. This is a significant reduction compared to the current discrepancy.”
The EC spokeswoman continues: “This is even more telling if put in terms of actual real emissions. We are moving from the current average real NOx emissions of 400 mg/km down to 168 mg/km (September 2017), then to 120 mg/km (January 2020). So we are more than halving the real amount of NOx emissions. And that is what matters to protect health and the environment.”
In addition, PEMS devices will be subject to annual review starting in 2020. “As this technology improves, we will be able to reduce the 50% error margin further,” the spokeswoman says.
Automakers Seeing Mixed Signals
Environment ministers discussed the veto informally and behind closed doors at a Dec. 16 meeting of the EU Council of Ministers, but are unlikely to shift their stance with EU nations having overwhelmingly backed the real-driving-emissions scheme Oct. 28. Both the Council and the European Parliament must approve the system for it to be authorized for use in the EU.
Automakers warn against delays to a previously agreed real-driving-emissions roadmap that involves a conformity assessment revamp as well as RDE.
“The industry urgently needs clarity so it can plan the development and design of vehicles in line with the new RDE requirements,” says Erik Jonnaert, secretary general-ACEA, the European automobile manufacturers’ group. “If this legislation was to be delayed, the complete RDE roadmap would be put in jeopardy.”
ACEA notes when the Euro 6 emissions limits were introduced in 2007, only the laboratory test was available and the RDE bridges the gap between that “and the very different conditions experienced on the road.”
Warns Jonnaert, “A rejection of the member states’ decision by the European Parliament in January would increase uncertainty for the industry and leave little time to make the necessary changes to vehicles and assembly lines.”
But environmentalists disagree, including Julia Poliscanova, clean-vehicles and air-quality officer at Transport & Environment, an umbrella group representing non-government green organizations.
“We applaud (Parliament members’) decision to stop car-making countries’ illegal move to pardon excess emissions,” Poliscanova says. “The technology to clean up exhausts is readily available and will cost just €100 ($109) for most cars. It is a small price to pay for clean air.”
Another clash with the EC also is brewing after the full Parliament voted Dec. 17 to set up a committee of inquiry into the co-called Dieselgate scandal and alleged failings by the EU executive and member states to enforce the law that was flouted by Volkswagen. The 45-member committee will report back in a year with an interim report in six months.
The lawmakers are furious with the EC’s handling of Dieselgate and convinced the EU executive knew about the cheating before the scandal erupted in September, a charge the executive denies.
At a Nov. 30 meeting of the EU Council of Ministers, Elżbieta Bieńkowska, commissioner-EU internal market, industry, entrepreneurship and SMEs, said: “We are all shocked and concerned by the Volkswagen revelations. And so it is understandable that we all look for someone to blame.
“The risk of defeat devices (used by VW to produce misleadingly favorable emissions-test results) was indeed known to the Commission, member states and MEPs since we collectively banned them in 2007,” Bieńkowska says, but adds, “The Commission was not aware of any actual instances of fraud. The testing systems in the EU did not pick them up.”
Not all the lawmakers back the committee of inquiry, including the largest political group, the center-right European People’s Party. British Conservative Julie Girling, a member of the European Conservatives and Reformists group, which also opposes the probe, dismisses it as “political posturing” and “will bring no additional light to a situation already subject to intense scrutiny.”