dirty but clean

BMW and the emissions-tinkering loophole

AbgasprŸfung des neuen BMW 530d in Landsberg am Lech am 19.03.2010
Exhaustive tests. Source: ADAC

Hell broke loose at BMW in December, when a German environmental group accused the luxury carmaker of manipulating emissions. BMW, so far untouched by VW’s diesel scandal, denied the charge that its 320d model unlawfully emitted more toxic gases under certain conditions.

The firm ran its own tests. The data resulted in a dispute between the carmaker, Germany’s transport ministry and two environmental agencies over the process that determines how much toxic gases a car can emit under different circumstances.

The scrap reveals a loophole in European law. When VW used software to artificially cut emissions during lab tests and raise them on the road, it was fraud with a capital F. But in BMW’s probe, it is about real driving, outside the lab, and when emissions-cleansing devices are switched on.

The problem in BMW’s case is a foggy formulation covering what exactly constitutes regular driving and when software kicks in to reduce exhaust-cleaning to protect the engine. This step increases emissions levels of fine particles and nitrogen oxide; such pollutants cause around 432,000 premature deaths in Europe per year.

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