Mobility

Dieselgate Fallout

Brussels will check car exhausts

Protesters in Germany demand cleaner air. Source: Reuters

Source: image

In a clear response to Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal, the European Parliament on Thursday approved tough new regulations for testing and monitoring automobile exhausts and giving the EU itself the power to carry out spot checks to make sure the rules are being enforced.

The agreement came after two years of negotiations between the EU parliament and the council of ministers, which represent the 28 nations in the EU. The European Parliament and individual nations must now ratify the agreement by a majority of 55 percent.

The biggest change is the addition of EU scientific experts to monitor the certification process for new cars, which is called type-approval, which until now was done by local authorities. The EU will be empowered to order Europe-wide recalls of cars found no to meet European emissions requirements.

This new framework will help restore the credibility of the car sector.

Kadri Simson
President, EU council of ministers

“The commission will be able to test cars on its own, trigger EU-wide recalls and impose fines of up to €30,000 ($35,400) per car if the law is violated,” said EU industry commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska. A spokesman for the council of ministers, Victor Flavian, said the testing would be carried out by scientific experts in the EU’s joint research center.

The change was prompted by what has become known as the Dieselgate scandal two years ago, when Volkswagen was discovered to have cheated on emissions testing for its diesel cars in the United States. It had installed software in the emissions control unit that kept noxious gases at a minimum during official testing, but then allowed them to increase exponentially when the cars were on the road.

VW paid $2.6 billion in criminal fines, $14 billion in civil penalties plus at least $10 billion in settling lawsuits from car dealers and vehicle owners. Yet in the European Union, many of the same vehicles stayed on the road until they were tested this year.

“This new framework will help restore the credibility of the car sector,” said Kadri Simson, the current president of the council of ministers, in a statement. “It will set up a transparent system with proper supervision, improve coordination and different levels and harmonize the application of EU rules.”

Under current rules, once a car gets a type-approval certificate in one country, it can be sold in other EU states without further testing and other countries had no recourse if they suspected a problem. Now every EU member will be able to test cars made in other countries for emissions and demand recall if they fail.

In addition, the EU will now check every five years to ensure that national testing agencies are properly performing their functions. Cars must not only pass tests in labs but in actual driving conditions – a clear effort to avoid a repeat of VW’s cheating – and the EU will carry out spot checks to ensure this.

Cars in most European countries have to be tested annually to make sure they pass emissions requirements. If they fail in one state, the EU will have broad authority to take action in others even if the car passed its initial certification requirements.

“Controls will be made more frequent, stricter and more vigorous,” Mr. Flavian said.

Till Hoppe covers the European Union in Brussels for Handelsblatt and Charles Wallace in an editor for handelsblatt Global in New York. To contact the authors: hoppe@handelsblatt.com and C.Wallace@extern.handelsblatt.com.