Britain’s diesel car emissions ‘five times over EU limits’, Government tests reveal

Recent claims by the UK Government that it is "leading the push" for greater emissions testing in diesel cars have been branded as "misleading", after a Department for Transport (DfT) investigation revealed that some vehicles are still producing up to 12 times the EU maximum limit for road-tested emissions.

A total of 37 different vehicle models were tested during the six-month investigation, including cars produced by manufacturers Ford, Renault and Vauxhall. While the DfT found no evidence of “test-cycle manipulation strategies” – as famously used by Volkswagen – the report did note a vast difference in nitrogen oxide emissions released on road-driving conditions compared to laboratory measurements.

All cars included as part of the DfT’s investigation failed to meet the EU limit when tested under “real-world” conditions, with the Department finding that the average emissions were five times higher than the EU limit of 180 mg/km.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin said: “The tests do show the widespread use of engine management systems to prevent engine damage which can lead to higher emissions in real world temperature conditions cooler than those in the approved lab test.

“The UK has been leading in Europe in pushing for real-world emissions tests which will address this problem. Real-world tests will be introduced next year to reduce harmful emissions, improve air quality and give consumers confidence in the performance of their cars.”

Misleading leaders

The description of the UK as a “leader” in an international push for real-world emissions tests has been questioned by industry groups. Environmental law firm ClientEarth feels the Government “has done nothing to challenge the car industry”.

ClientEarth lawyer Alan Andrews highlighted the UK Government’s decision to back new EU rules – which essentially allows new diesel cars to continue emitting more than twice the agreed pollution limits – as a reason it shouldn’t claim to be calling for change.

“It’s completely misleading for the Transport Secretary to suggest that the UK government has been leading the way on this,” said. “We need a national network of clean air zones with random testing of vehicles and consumer labelling based on real world, independent tests.

“This will help us get the dirtiest diesel vehicles off our streets. At the same time, the government needs to fight for clean air at EU level to close the loopholes in emissions testing.”

ClientEarth has already locked horns with the UK Government over air quality, after sending a final legal warning to the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) over “woeful” air pollution policies.

Manufacturer manipulation

ClientEarth’s criticism of the investigation – which was carried out in the wake of last year’s Volkswagen scandal – comes in the same week that green transport group Transport & Environment (T&E) labelled a European Environment Agency (EEA) report on vehicle emissions as “hot air”.

According to the EEA, new cars sold in the EU are increasingly fuel-efficient, with the average CO2 emissions 3% lower year-on-year. But T&E has described those figures as “worthless” due to manufacturers manipulating outdated tests in order to pass the testing system.

While Volkswagen has since agreed a deal to compensate car owners in the US, analysis has suggested that the 11 million cars that it rigged to cheat emissions testing were responsible for nearly a million extra tonnes of pollution.

With Mitsubishi now caught-up in its own fuel efficiency testing storm – after it was revealed that it had fabricated fuel economy tests – the public may finally be ready to embrace a global roll-out of low-carbon and electric vehicles with open arms, which could potentially save the UK economy £232bn annually.

Matt Mace

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