EU Wrangles with Lax Car Emissions Testing

EU policymakers are slowly realizing the bloc’s car emissions regulations aren’t good enough. The Volkswagen scandal brought global attention to carmakers’ ability effectively to game emissions testing, and perhaps as a result the EU’s environment committee is taking the problem more seriously. As Reuters reports, members of that committee have overwhelmingly opposed a new slate of testing rules they deemed too lenient:

The new rules agreed in a closed-door committee in October would allow vehicles to carry on spewing out more than twice official pollution limits, after many of the 28 member states demanded leeway to protect their car industries.

The committee’s vote of 40 to 9 against them sets the stage for a plenary ballot next month that could send the legislation back to the drawing board, but where cross-party support would be more difficult to achieve.

While Volkswagen circumvented rules by installing sophisticated software that could detect when one of its cars was being tested and drive accordingly, the EU has a longer history with lower-tech testing techniques that, if not outright cheating, certainly blur the line. Carmakers are allowed to prepare their vehicles for testing, and do they ever prepare them. Companies have done everything from removing side mirrors and radios from cars to save weight, to using specialized lubricants and test-specific tires to make vehicles run more efficiently, to taping up cracks between panels to reduce drag, to running the tests at specific temperatures to make engines more efficient.

EU members have to balance what’s best for their auto industries (lax testing) against the negative PR of being exposed as naked green hypocrites whose regulations allow companies to claim their products are much more eco-friendly than they actually are. This is, unsurprisingly, a contentious issue for the bloc.

Growing environmental awareness has created a cottage industry for unscrupulous companies willing to take advantage of customers’ desire to feel good about buying “green” without actually putting out eco-friendly products. There’s an incentive to spend enormous amounts of cash on eco-marketing, and, as we saw with Volkswagen, to find ways to rig testing. Without stringent regulations, we’re only going to see more scandals in the vein of VW’s brazen cheating.

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