Air-Pollution Tests

Clean, Green, VW

Fabrikneue VW Golf stehen am 05.10.2015 auf Transportzügen vor dem Werk Mosel in Zwickau (Sachsen). VW hat bei einem Teil seiner Dieselmotoren eine betrügerische Software eingesetzt, welche die Abgaswerte im Testbetrieb optimiert. Im Regelbetrieb erreichten die Fahrzeuge jedoch nicht die vorgeschriebenen Schadstoffwerte. Die Folgen für den Konzern sind noch nicht absehbar. Foto: Jan Woitas/dpa +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++
Dirty but clean: In a test of car emissions, Volkswagen came up smelling of roses.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Volkswagen performed surprisingly well in an emissions test but testers said gaps in assessment mean cars still release high levels of nitrogen oxide.

  • Facts


    • The Transport & Environment association says its tests show that Europe’s cleanest diesel cars are made by VW.
    • The dirtiest are made by Fiat and Alfa Romeo, the association says.
    • The testing director at the group of environment-focused European transportation clubs says the E.U.’s testing methods and regulatory framework need drastic improvement.
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The surprisingly good news for Dieselgate-plagued Volkswagen is that its latest diesel-engine vehicles are ranked by one association as Europe’s cleanest, as far as air pollution goes.

But those engines still exceed the latest nitrogen-oxide standard by nearly 100 percent.

These are the findings by Transport & Environment, an association of environmentally-conscious European transportation clubs.

Transport & Environment tested the newest generation of diesel-powered vehicles, which are outfitted with motors in compliance with the Euro-6 standard. The engines are allowed to emit a maximum of 80 grams of nitrogen oxide per 1,000 driven kilometers (621 miles). The new generation of Euro-6 cars has been sold in Europe for about a year.

The association reported that diesel models from Germany-based VW far outshone the competition – including Toyota, Mercedes and Opel – on nitrogen oxide, a component of engine exhaust that presents a serious threat to human health. Bringing up the rear were Fiat and Alfa Romeo’s cars.

“A year after the VW diesel scandal became known, all manufacturers continue to sell cars that are highly damaging to the environment.”

Greg Archer, Testing director, Transport & Environment

The Volkswagen brand cut the best figure in comparison with other manufacturers. But according to Transport & Environment, VW – even as test winner – exceeded the maximum allowed by an average of nearly 100 percent.

The testers consider the other diesel models sold in Europe even worse than Volkswagen. Toyota and Peugeot were five times over the permitted nitrogen oxide levels. Opel had emissions 10 times higher than allowed, Fiat 15 times higher.

For the previous standard Euro 5 (up to 180 grams of nitrogen oxide per 1,000 kilometers), the test results are even worse. Volkswagen loses its top position and slips back into midfield. Euro-5 models are the cars that were involved in Dieselgate, a term associated with VW’s cheating on laboratory tests of emissions from its diesel-powered vehicles.

“A year after the VW diesel scandal became known, all manufacturers continue to sell cars that are highly damaging to the environment,” said Greg Archer, test director at Transport & Environment.

National regulatory authorities simply closed their eyes and allowed carmakers to publish emission figures that met with air-pollution limits, he says.

Mr. Archer is calling for dependable emission tests in Europe. There are far too many exceptions that allow carmakers to evade the legally prescribed limits, he says. The governments of E.U. member states protect their own automotive industries.

“For this reason, we need a European licensing agency for approving cars,” he said.

Arndt Ellinghorst of investment consultant Evercore ISI agreed: “For us, this is a reasonable solution and seems to be the next logical step.”

For Transport & Environment’s investigation of nitrogen oxide levels, the association used stricter criteria than the testing methods now customary. Transport & Environment says realistic figures are finally available. The association criticizes the automotive industry for calculating its figures based on lab tests far removed from realities of normal, everyday driving.

The testers consider the so-called “thermal window” to be the car industry’s biggest problem. In lab tests, most cars are tested only in a temperature range of 23-29 degrees Celsius (73.4-84.2 degrees Fahrenheit). At lower temperatures – such as are common throughout the year in most parts of Europe – carmakers are still permitted to partly or completely disregard the required reduction of nitrogen oxide.


Stefan Menzel is the managing editor of Handelsblatt’s website and closely follows the car industry. To reach the author:

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