EU Set to Overhaul Type Approval in Wake of VW Scandal

A Sept. 24 meeting of the parliament’s environment committee voted in favor of a draft law tightening up tailpipe emissions, especially nitrogen-oxides, and the committee called for a new, real-life, test procedure to be enforced by end 2017.

Sara Lewis

September 28, 2015

5 Min Read
VW scandal almost certainly helped push vote in reform direction
VW scandal almost certainly helped push vote in reform direction.

BRUSSELS – The Volkswagen defeat-device emissions scandal is set to bring a major overhaul of the European Union’s type-approval system in its wake.

The EU already was switching its testing from the laboratory to the road, but the revelations have sparked demands from members of the European Parliament (MEPs) to speed up these reforms and introduce a centralized, independent test body to certify vehicles sold in all 28 member states.

A Sept. 24 meeting of the parliament’s environment committee voted in favor of a draft law tightening tailpipe emissions, especially nitrogen oxides, and the committee called for a new, real-life test procedure to be enforced by the end of 2017.

EU member states already have supported a new Real Driving Emission (RDE) test, which will employ portable on-vehicle emission-measuring systems. The move was backed in May by the EU’s Technical Committee for Motor Vehicles, including member states and the European Commission, the EU executive.

While the bloc starts rolling out the system in January, initially using it solely for monitoring, MEPs want the process speeded up and the tests replacing the current laboratory checks for type-approval beginning 2018.

The VW scandal almost certainly helped to bring a 66-1 vote for the report from German center-right MEP Albert Dess on the draft law. During a debate earlier this year, the committee was split over the need for tighter controls, with some arguing the EU should not impose a burden on industry.

However, a parliamentary source tells WardsAuto the compromise amendments already had been drawn up before the scandal erupted, and MEPs of all parties had long called for a real-life emissions test.

“The scandal came as confirmation,” the source says. He forecast that some MEPs might reject amendments to the Dess report, demanding a single type-approval body when the proposal goes before the full parliament next month.

There was backing for such an idea during a separate emergency debate on the Volkswagen scandal, which saw broad cross-party support for a shift to a centralized EU type-approval body. Currently, national certification bodies in each member state issue their own type-approval in line with common criteria, but the cars then have access to the 28-nation EU market via mutual recognition.

As green group Transport & Environment points out in a factsheet on the scandal: “In Europe car makers pay certified testing organizations to perform tests in the car makers’ own laboratories. The tests are overseen by national type approval authorities (in the U.K., the Vehicle Certification Agency). But car makers shop for the best deal from agencies across Europe and directly pay for their services. The job of the engineer overseeing the test is ultimately dependent on the next contract from the car maker.”

Belgium center-right MEP Ivo Belet says he is “struck by the lack of independent testing.”

Another gripe for the lawmakers was once a car receives type approval and is on the market, it generally faces no further checks.

“We will need some kind of market-surveillance system,” Finnish center-right MEP Christofer Fjellner said during the debate. “Can we really trust a decentralized one?”

Joanna Szychowska, head of the EC’s auto-industry unit, rejects unfavorable comparisons with the U.S. system, warning: “We have to be careful before we jump to any conclusions…the two systems are very different and not comparable.”

Szychowska says the U.S. carried out independent checks because automakers self-certified compliance, and cars are not subject to type approval so “the order of things is reversed.”

“I would call for caution in saying the type-approval system in Europe is generally flawed – I don’t think that’s correct.”

Nevertheless, the Commission will issue proposals on tolerance limits for the RDE by the end of December. Szychowska says the Commission also aims to come up with stricter rules for recalls. Market-surveillance provisions are under review too.

“We are aware that market surveillance has not been the most effective system,” she says.

The lawmakers have been critical of Volkswagen and most believe other manufacturers may be involved in similar schemes as well.

Dutch Green MEP Bas Eickhout stresses that regardless of the planned testing reforms the issue of defeat devices is one of implementation, given they already were banned by the EU’s 2007 type approval directive. His message to the Commission was blunt: “So do something about it.”

Szychowska stresses enforcement and type-approval procedures are the responsibility of national governments: “The rules exist and it’s up to member states to enforce these rules,” she says, adding there is “no ambiguity that this type of manipulation is completely illegal.”

She says that member states have options: They can withdraw type approval or impose penalties.

“Use of defeat devices is a matter of criminal law in member states,” Szychowska says, noting the Commission will meet with the German type-approval authority KBA (Kraftfahrt-Bundesamt) in the coming days to discuss the issue.

Privately, the Commission is reluctant to commit to reforms immediately.

“We are looking at the different possibilities currently on how to improve market surveillance,” a spokesperson for the EU executive tells WardsAuto. “We are not ruling out anything.”

The EU executive is “open to discussion,” she says, but declines to give a timetable for action. “We’re basically listening and keeping the options open.”

EU Industry Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska makes clear in a statement it is up to EU member states to enforce the rules and punish wrongdoers.

“Our message is clear: zero tolerance on fraud and rigorous compliance with EU rules,” she says. “We need full disclosure and robust pollutant emissions tests in place.”

EU trade and industry ministers will discuss the issue at an Oct. 1 EU Council of Ministers competitiveness meeting before the focus returns to Parliament for a debate at the Oct. 5-8 plenary. The parliament’s environment and internal market committees have summoned the Commission to answer questions about its response to the scandal.

ACEA, the European automaker group, did not respond to questions about the scandal and whether it backed a single European type-approval body.

“We cannot comment on an issue affecting one individual company,” the organization says in a statement. “There is no evidence that this is an industry-wide issue.”

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