diesel attack

E.U. Emission Rules Are Not Tough Enough

Volkswagen – CO2
Testing should be tougher.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    • New standards are being rolled out and the industry will have to scramble to accommodate them. But what if, after all that work, the new emissions standards only serve to demonize diesel?
  • Facts


    • In 2017, new cars will be put through paces in new road tests.
    • Come 2019, the road tests will be required for all new car registrations in the E.U.
    • While NOx emissions have decreased 97 percent since 1988, the E.U. wants more.
  • Audio


  • Pdf



The accusation is that once again in Brussels, the car lobby has won out – and that’s evident in the new requirements for the auto industry. 

Beginning in 2017, new cars will be tested for nitrogen oxide emissions in a road test (RDE or Real Driving Emissions) that will allow them to exceed permitted laboratory levels by “more than double.”

This corresponds to the picture that some environmental lobbyists imagine the automotive industry to be. But this assessment has nothing to do with the facts. The NEDC is required by law and applies to the roller dynamometer test bench, which means it takes place in the laboratory. The maximum for nitrogen oxide or NOx emissions is 80 milligrams per kilometer, a decline of 97 percent of amounts from the early 1990s.

It’s true that this test was introduced more than 20 years ago. It will rightly be replaced by the WLTP, the new, more realistic test in the near future. But this test will also take place in the laboratory, because only then can the test be comparable and reproducible.

Starting in 2017, the E.U. – the world’s biggest economy – will add “real driving emissions” to the tests it runs on cars. For 90 minutes the car will be driven “outside” with all the real-world uncertainties. The nitrogen oxide emissions may initially be around a maximum of a little more than double over the NEDC limit on average, beginning in 2020 by more than half. Emissions are reduced on the road much faster than in the laboratory. When compared against Euro 5 emission standards, this is a reduction of 80 percent.

Those emissions are still far too high, environmental groups criticize. However, this approach falls short. In reality, there is not “just one” NOx value. For a car stopped in traffic, the nitrogen oxide emissions per kilometer approach a value of “infinity.” If the driver operates on level ground, however, with their foot off the gas, they are at zero. Simply put: The outside world is not a laboratory, but real life in all its diversity.

So it is not about an “unjustified violation” of the NEDC laboratory value, but instead ensuring compliance with a new, very demanding limit. It is crucial that the new measuring method reflects a whole range of different factors that are both realistic and work under pressure. The specific design of the regulation must set clear measurement conditions. Otherwise the floodgates of arbitrariness are open.

No question – the Brussels decision is extremely ambitious. It gives manufacturers and suppliers huge technological and economic challenges. Vehicles must be equipped with the latest exhaust technology to comply with the new RDE guidelines. The launch date of October 2017 for all brand-new car models and two years later for all new car registrations – is, to put it mildly, pretty tight.

The development of the 2017 models is already well advanced, and making technical changes in the middle of the process is expensive and may delay their launch.

No less critical is September 2019 when RDE applies to all new passenger car registrations in the E.U. That includes many diesel models in the market today. Some of them will only meet the new requirements if they are retrofitted. This is technically complex. The alternative: No more approvals in 2019. In price-sensitive small cars, whose share of diesel now stands at 13 percent, this scenario could threaten their existence.

One thing must not happen: no sensible approach of measuring the pollutant emissions on the road should lead to damage to diesel’s reputation as the most efficient internal combustion engine option.

It is incomprehensible that there has been no impact assessment in advance of the RDE decision. A measure with such serious consequences for the competitiveness of the automotive industry in Europe should not be conducted without an independent assessment of its impact.

One thing must not be allowed to happen: the sensible approach of measuring the pollutant emissions on the road should not damage diesel’s reputation as the most efficient internal combustion engine option.

If Brussels forces some diesel use to be replaced by petrol, CO2 emissions in the E.U. would automatically increase. That certainly wouldn’t be what European climate change policy is aiming for.


To contact the author: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

We hope you enjoyed this article

Make sure to sign up for our free newsletters too!