Clearing the air

BMW counters Dieselgate accusations

main 125879465 source Falk Heller for Handelsblatt – DO NOT REUSE – BMW 320 diesel model tested in Aschheim test track north of Munich carmaker auto
It's not so much how bright it shines, but how much it emits. Source: Falk Heller for Handelsblatt

To prove its innocence, BMW invited a select group of journalists to its secret test track at Aschheim, north of its Munich-based headquarters. Its board member in charge of development joined a test driver to prove how its 320 diesel car performs on the road – and why emissions results released on Tuesday by environmental group Umwelthilfe were based on unrealistic driving conditions.

Umwelthilfe’s accusations, which have already triggered a preliminary investigation by Munich prosecutors, has cast a dark cloud over the luxury carmaker, which has so far been untouched by VW’s diesel emissions scandal. On Tuesday, the environment organization said BMW had manipulated the engine of its 320 diesel model, part of BMW’s best-selling 3 Series, and that the car contains an illegal emissions-control system.

At the test track, BMW again rejected the allegations, saying it was “100 percent certain” the model examined by Umwelthilfe complied with regulations. The environmental group claims that the car spews out up to seven times more nitrogen oxide on the road than during lab tests. Especially when the engine’s revolutions per minute reached 3,500 or higher did production of the toxic gas increase, Umwelthilfe said.

A BMW board member said Umwelthilfe had “consciously and deliberately” pushed the car to its extremes to “produce eye-catching emissions values.”

BMW representatives explained that such high revolutions are extreme for an automatic-drive car with eight gears. When RPMs hit 3,500, the 320 diesel’s engine automatically cuts exhaust-gas recirculation, thereby increasing emissions of nitrogen oxide, the officials said. Such emission reductions are allowed under certain conditions in accordance with EU laws to protect engine parts.

The BMW development boss, Klaus Fröhlich, said in Aschheim that Umwelthilfe had “consciously and deliberately” pushed the car to its extremes to “produce eye-catching emissions values.” In other words: No person would drive a car as Umwelthife did.

During a test run, a BMW driver showed how the car performs when reaching 3,500 RPMs at the speeds that Umwelthilfe reported. The driver had to manually shift down several gears to push up RPMs, and the vehicle became unusually and unnaturally loud.

Axel Friedrich, the head of Umwelthilfe’s EKI emissions control institute, dismissed BMW’s arguments when contacted by Handelsblatt. He said nitrogen oxide emissions were also unusually high when the engine’s RPMs were below 3,500 and its torque or rotational force reached a certain level.

Umwelthilfe has at least reached one goal by testing the BMW 320 diesel: Germany’s Federal Motor Transport Authority, known as the KBA, will examine the car again in the next two weeks. The data will likely be handed over to prosecutors in Munich. BMW said it wanted to see test results as quickly as possible to clear the matter. Like recent talk of potential diesel bans in numerous cities, any doubt over BMW’s diesel cars could weigh on its reputation – and sales.

Markus Fasse specializes in aviation and automobile industry news and works from Handelsblatt’s Munich office. To contact the author: fasse@handelsblatt.com

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