Several cars emit smoke in a traffic jam in Bydgoszcz (Poland). Jaap Arriens (NurPhoto via Getty)
In 2015, Volkswagen was reported to have sold millions of vehicles with a fraudulent defeat device to alter the emissions results of its diesel engines during certification testing.
It led the authorities to carry out additional tests on these vehicles —which had already passed official certification— in which they measured new parameters.
An independent analysis by the NGO International Council for Clean Transport (ICCT), based on both these latest additional official tests and other independent tests, indicates that 77% of the tests carried out on the newest diesel cars (Euro 6), and 85% in the Euro 5, —sold between 2009 and 2019— show “suspicious” levels of nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions above the legal limit, while 44% of the tests yield results “ extremes”.
According to ICCT, this data suggests that brands continue to use defeat devices such as those banned after
Meanwhile, the NGO ClientEarth has sent formal complaints to the governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom to demand that they control the manufacturers.
Emission control systems limit the gases that come out of the tailpipes of newer diesel cars;
the main one is NOx, a very harmful gas for humans whose healthy limits are exceeded in most Spanish and European cities.
While defeat devices are
installed in the vehicle to alter or disable this emission control system under certain circumstances.
Thus, vehicles reduce their performance —and, therefore, their pollution— during official tests, while with normal driving they offer more performance and pollute more than announced.
Two judgments of the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) of 2020 and 2022 confirmed that these devices are generally prohibited and that their use can only be justified "when not doing so creates a concrete danger while driving."
Now, an ICCT report compiles and analyzes the results of different emission test programs for vehicles sold between 2009 and 2019, both official (laboratory tests and in real conditions carried out by the different governments) and independent (tests in real conditions carried out by independent organizations and remote sensing measurements collected by researchers from five European countries).
And the conclusion of this entity is that the vast majority of newer diesel cars have excess emissions much higher than those expected, set at 180 micrograms per kilometer (mg/km) for Euro 5, and 80 mg/km for Euro 6 (according to the environmental classification of the EU).
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The ICCT finds “suspicious” emissions in 77% of the Euro 6 tests, and in 85% of the Euro 5s. Tim Dallmann, one of the study authors, explains this classification by email: “Suspicious emissions are those whose results exceed the approved level by an amount that cannot reasonably be explained by changes in test conditions and test-to-test variability.
Meanwhile, the extreme ones indicate a level of emissions so higher than the regulatory limits that it is very unlikely that there is an explanation other than the presence of a prohibited deactivation device”.
The extreme threshold is three or four times higher than the official emission limit and the environmental NGO considers that it indicates the "almost certain" presence of an emissions "calibration strategy" that,
The report analyzes the results of 220 different cars.
According to the conclusions, in 119 of the 124 Euro 5 vehicle models analysed, and in 90 of 95 Euro 6 models, suspicious emissions appeared in at least one test (about 200 in total), while in 85 Euro 5 and 66 models from Euro 6 the emissions became extreme (about 150).
According to the entity's data, there are some 19 million vehicles in the EU and the United Kingdom with a "probable use" of the prohibited deactivation device;
while in Spain they estimate a total of 2.1 million vehicles with suspicious emission levels between 2009 and 2019, of which the vast majority (1.9 million) are still in use.
The ICCT also evaluated the data collected in previous remote sensing campaigns, which measure the actual emissions of vehicles from the roadside to the path of drivers.
The data, consisting of 700,000 measurements in five European countries, showed that approximately 75% of the average emissions of diesel engine families exceeded the "extreme" threshold.
Dallmann notes: “
prompted testing of diesel cars in Europe.
Although many showed elevated emissions, there were few
revisions to fix these issues and they failed to bring emissions levels below the emissions limit.
In addition, the authorities' follow-up actions were limited, due in part to the lack of a clear definition of defeat devices and the limited legal bases to act”.
In his opinion, the CJEU rulings of 2020 and 2022 “open up the opportunity for market surveillance authorities to take appropriate corrective measures to deal with the many diesel cars that have been shown to emit high levels of NOx”.
Formal complaint before several countries
As a result of these data, the NGO ClientEarth has filed a formal complaint with the governments of France, Germany and the United Kingdom in which it denounces "their inability to guarantee that the industry acts to clean up the disaster", and criticizes that the evidence collected " suggest that nearly all auto manufacturers have employed defeat devices that should be prohibited under a proper reading of the law.”
For this reason, the entity asks that car manufacturers contribute to a Dieselgate Cleanup Fund that would be used by national governments to reduce pollution from road transport, giving priority to the most polluted areas.
The NGO points out that this is a first step to demand responsibilities and that, if they do not receive an answer, they consider initiating formal legal proceedings before the national courts.
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