Auto industry got what it wanted from EU on NOx

Back in October, carmakers succeeded in winning delays from the European Commission to a more stringent “real driving emissions” test, which will allow them to emit more than twice the legal limit (circa 110 per cent) of deadly nitrogen oxides (NOx) from 2019 and up to 50 per cent more from 2021. The EU Commission has already postponed the introduction of the tests by a year.

The National European flags in 2007Yesterday, carmakers successfully concluded their fight for diluted EU plans to test the nitrogen oxide emissions of cars under real-driving conditions.

Nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions will now be allowed at twice the EU’s 80mg per km limit from 2019 and 50 per cent more from 2021. This is despite press reports of the exemptions being deemed unlawful in a separate vote by the parliament’s legal committee pointing out the reservations last Monday when it endorsed the environment committee’s veto recommendation. It claimed that the overshoot margins amount to a “de-facto blanket derogation” from the EU’s NOx limits.

MEPs rejected the proposal by 323 votes to 317. That’s 53 votes short of the absolute majority needed under EU voting rules.

The  claims that as a matter of necessity it has been trying to close the gap between the now flawed laboratory testing of new vehicles and real world emissions.

The European Commission, the EU executive, is trying to close the gap between laboratory testing of new vehicles and real world emissions. The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) said the Commission’s earlier reform plans were too challenging for current diesel models and could threaten the technology as a whole, jeopardizing jobs across the region.

However, a legal challenge may arise from this decision, as many MEPs stringently oppose the weakening of initial real driving emission test proposals on health grounds. They argue that the effective new Euro 6 limit of 168mg/km is closer to the EU’s previous Euro 5 standard of 180mg/km than it is to the current Euro 6 limit of 80mg/km.

For instance, while the UK Government fully backed the exemptions, the health lobby in the UK claims that it’s annual death rate is thought to be about 4 per cent higher (responsible for 23,500 premature deaths a year) because of respiratory illnesses caused by NOx from diesel engines, contributing to diseases such as asthma, heart disease, emphysema and bronchitis.

The uproar that resulted from Volkswagen’s use of “defeat devices” to manipulate current NOx tests and studies showing that just one in 10 cars meets current limits, appear to have had little effect on the voting, as the big car manufacturing economies ( UK, Germany, France and Spain in particular) in the EU have swayed Euro MPs in favour of the exemptions.

Only the Netherlands opposed the proposal, which passed after heavy lobbying from the car industry and EU countries such as the UK, Germany, France and Spain, which are currently facing court action from the EU for failing to meet NO2 standards.

Ironically, most of Europe’s NOx pollution come from diesel engines, which were encouraged by the EU as a way of lowering planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions.

Elzbieta Bienkowska, the commission member responsible for car industry regulation,  defended the deal in the Financial Times, saying that it would make a big contribution to tackling a longstanding problem of cars passing official tests but breaching permitted NOx limits on the road. To help win over parliament members, she has also pledged to make aggressive use of a review clause to try to tighten the rules further. She vowed to review the 50 percent overshoot ceiling and to move to enforce the legal cap no later than 2023.

“Of course I could call for my initial proposal but I would then need to have support among the member states, and I will not get it,” Ms Bienkowska said in an interview with the FT last month.

The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) welcomes the direction set by the European Parliament in today’s vote, allowing for the adoption of the regulation on Real Driving Emissions (RDE), which was approved by the member states last October.

“This regulation will be a major challenge for the industry, with new and more stringent testing standards that will be extremely difficult to reach in a short space of time,” stated Erik Jonnaert, ACEA Secretary General. “However automobile manufacturers welcome the much-needed clarity, and are eager to move forward by implementing the new testing conditions as soon the regulation is adopted.”

RDE testing of cars under realistic driving conditions on the road will be a new addition to the existing test requirements, making Europe the only region in the world to implement such testing.