EU May Follow U.S. Lead to Nab Emissions Cheaters

Alois Krasenbrink of the Joint Research Center, the in-house science and technology arm of the EU’s executive branch, the European Commission, confirms the EU wants to conduct EPA-style secret checks.

Sara Lewis

February 29, 2016

4 Min Read
EU testing technology not up to job critics say
EU testing technology not up to job, critics say.

BRUSSELS – The European Union is considering adopting methods used by the U.S. EPA and secretly testing cars to avoid a repeat of the Volkswagen diesel-emissions cheating scandal.

Members of the European Parliament’s environment, public-health and food-safety committee learned at a Feb. 23 hearing that with test procedures kept secret, automakers cannot design and fit cheating devices to subvert controls.

Alois Krasenbrink, head of the sustainable-transport unit at the Joint Research Center, the in-house science and technology arm of the EU’s executive branch of the European Commission, confirms the EU wants to stage EPA-style secret checks.

The JRC, which has a pivotal role in designing new EU type-approval systems, would apply “a kind of secret test,” Krasenbrink says, adding, “We’re not telling the kind of car we will be testing.”

The hearing focused on the new real-driving-emissions (RDE) test, which the EU has started approving, to measure tailpipe emissions on roads using portable measurement systems rather than laboratory assessments.

The test is being phased in over four stages, initially for monitoring purposes. The EU then will set application dates and limits, including a controversial 110% tolerance its conformity factor allows on the 80 mg/km nitrogen-oxides emissions limits; a European Parliament bid to block this tolerance limit failed Feb. 3.

The other half of the package will be implemented later this year, with the third step introducing cold-start procedures and extending tests to hybrids; the fourth in service-conformity testing.

Some EP lawmakers, notably Dutch Green Party member Bas Eickhout, contends the RDE test, while an improvement, still doesn’t truly reflect real-world conditions. Citing various exemptions, he says, “RDE still reads like a very bad novel.”

Eickhout notes cars would not be tested for cold starts under 50o F (10o C) for the first 4,260 ft. (1,300 m) or under 19.4o F (-7o C) and says, “so we should stop talking about real emissions.”

But secretary general Erik Jonnaert of the ACEA, the European automakers’ group, told the hearing that while real emissions and test results were getting closer, there always would be differences. Citing factors such as driver behavior, Jonnaert said, “It’s never going to be 100% what happens in the real world.”

Krasenbrink notes equipment used for RDE differs significantly from that used in laboratories and reports seeing a 30% deviation linked to the change in emissions-test procedures from lab to RDE.

U.S. Testing Model's Merits Debated

Both regulators and the auto industry were criticized at the hearing. Jürgen Resch of Deutsche Umwelthilfe, a German environmental group, told the committee his organization had tested the the Opel Zafira, Renault Espace, Mercedes C-Class and models from BMW, Nissan, Fiat Chrysler and General Motors over the past few months and found all tested cars “exceed NOx values up to twenty-fivefold.”

Resch alleged German authorities for years have refused to accept various reports from DUH and argued to the not-for-profit body it was not possible to implement the tests. Resch said Swiss regulators have supported the DUH approach but in Germany, “we have very serious violations, which require clarifications.”

Noting differences between laboratory test results and emissions found in real driving conditions, Resch said: “This isn’t external conditions. This is intentional fraud which is being committed.” He also warned the RDE still was vulnerable to cheating. More effective, he said, was the EPA’s

independent testing involving 15% to 20% of all new cars, U.S. labs’ software-recognition technology and the “surprise factor” of spot checks on in-service vehicles.

Jonnaert’s claim that equipping cars to comply with the new tests would add €600-€1,300 ($660-$1,430) to a vehicle’s manufacturing costs was dismissed by Resch, who pointed out that despite meeting much tougher standards, cars in the U.S. are less expensive than in Europe. Jonnaert countered that both standards and testing differ between the U.S. and Europe, notably that targets are applied per vehicle in the EU but per fleet in the U.S.

But Chris Carroll, coordinator-Sustainable Transport Project at the European Consumers Organization, pointed out that because of application of a correction factor, “In the U.S. over 90% of drivers actually achieve better fuel consumption than manufacturers’ figures.”

Carroll attacked the RDE conformity factor and the contention by the EC, member states and some lawmakers that this was a good deal. “If somebody breaks the law you don’t allow them to continue breaking the law,” but enforce compliance, he said.

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