Volkswagen’s diesel scandal could just be the tip of a very large iceberg when it comes to carmakers faking emissions figures. Carmakers are exploiting weak and outdated EU laws to claim misleading statistics about fuel efficiency, a new report says. Real-world CO2 emissions are up to 40 percent higher than in the lab.
According to a study released this week by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), vehicle manufacturers are “systematically exploiting technical tolerances and imprecise definitions” to wrongly record their fuel efficiency and therefore their carbon dioxide emissions.
The ICCT tested 29 passenger cars built between 2009 and 2012 (including ten available in the US), comparing their real-world emissions with the official figures of the French and German approval agencies, and – for the US cars – official parameters used in US emissions certification tests.
Lighter test cars
“For all 19 [European] vehicles, actual road load exceeded what was simulated during type-approval tests on those vehicles,” the ICCT said in a statement. On average, the organization found that the cars’ official CO2 emissions figures were 7.2 percent lower than their actual road emissions. The US-tested cars faired much better – with an average discrepancy of only 1.8 percent.
Jens Hilgenberg, traffic emissions specialist at German environmental organization BUND, was not surprised by any of this. “After dieselgate, everyone is interested in hearing what we’ve been saying now for many years,” he told DW, before pointing out that in 2014, BUND had released a report that showed up to 40-percent discrepancies between real-world and lab CO2 emissions in cars.
Hilgenberg explained some of the many tricks that carmakers have at their disposal, thanks to what he called “the many gray zones” in European Union regulations. “In the last ten years or so, manufacturers have noticed that no one is checking,” he said. “They always use a lighter base model for the tests that are never actually sold in that form – there’s no heated back windshield, there’s no radio, there’s no air conditioning in it – anything that adds any weight to it, and anything that uses extra electricity is not in there – and if it is it’s not turned on.”
Not only that, said Hilgenberg, manufacturers put the narrowest possible tires on the car and put much more pressure in them than “you would – or even could – driving on the road.” “It’s all more or less legal,” he added. “But it’s just getting exploited in a more and more blatant way.”
“Not only that, the carmakers can choose which country in the EU they want to conduct their test in, and they only need one pass for the whole of Europe,” he added. “And there are no official follow-up tests by any government agency.”