Everybody Cheats On Diesel Emissions Tests


Volkswagen has taken its lumps over the past year. Last September, the International Council on Clean Transportation, after independent emissions tests, was the first to claim Volkswagen diesel emissions — especially NOx — were many times greater than advertised. Instead of being the prince of clean diesel technology, it became the dark knight of dirty diesel detritus. Last week, a former VW employee pleaded guilty to criminal charges in the US for his role in the scandal.

portable emissions testing
Portable real world emissions testing equipment attached to a Peugeot 308 Credit: Green Car Report

Volkswagen’s stock has tumbled, costing investors billions. Its sales have also plummeted, leading to angry words with its dealers. Everywhere from Europe to North America to the Korean peninsular, the company has been pilloried by government regulators, environmental groups, and the press as a villainous enterprise, conspiring in back rooms and alleyways to sicken our children and endanger the very survival of mankind.

Now a new study by Toulouse School of Economics Professor Mathias Reynaert and UC Berkeley Professor James Sallee concludes that Volkswagen was not alone. According to their findings, virtually every manufacturer of diesel powered cars sold in Europe cheated on their emissions testing as well. A French study released earlier this year supports their conclusion.

It found that diesel cars from Renault and Nissan had nitrogen oxide emissions eight times higher than allowed by current Euro 6 standards. Reynaert and Sallee find a strong correlation between the size of the discrepancy and the imposition of tougher new emissions standards.

The higher the bar was set, the greater the difference between the emissions the companies reported and real world driving results. Regulators plead that there is not enough money to buy the real world testing equipment needed to enforce the regulations, but that is just stuff and nonsense.

What the new study reveals is a governmental structure that postures about its commitment to good environmental policies while turning its head so it won’t see the devious ways their regulations are evaded. After all, the auto industry provides employment for a lot of people. It’s not just factory workers, its salesmen and dealers, the drivers who deliver the cars to dealers, the finance companies that provide loans and leases to car buyers, and the myriad parts suppliers both large and small that make building modern automobiles possible. For every job in manufacturing, another 6 are created to support the process.

And yes, it also generates lots of tax revenue for local and national governments, money that goes to pay the salary of all those oh-so-sanctimonious regulators. The truth is, everyone has something to gain from evading regulations.

Professor Reyneart says The New European Driving Cycle testing protocol leaves plenty of room for car makers to cheat and so cheat they do. He and Professor Sallee used data from Travelcard, a Dutch fuel card service, to estimate real world fuel economy and emissions. Then they compared their figures to official ratings. The tougher EU emissions rules kicked in around 2007. That’s when the difference between reported emissions levels and real world results began to grow rapidly.

emissions chart

What conclusions should we draw from this latest information? Last week, Renault announced that actually meeting diesel emissions regulations — instead of pretending to — will simply cost too much money to be profitable. It expects diesels to simply disappear from European roads shortly.

That’s a stunning statement. At this very moment, I am having breakfast on the shores of Lake Orta in northern Italy. Every vehicle in the area is a diesel — passenger cars, SUVs, police cars, ambulances, taxis, garbage trucks. All are powered by diesel engines. Europe has bought into the myth of diesel superiority in a big way. Eliminating diesels will require a massive rearrangement of conventional wisdom.

And why is diesel king? Because for the past 40 years, every European country has arranged their fuel taxes to favor diesel as a motor fuel. The objective was to reap the benefit of diesel’s higher fuel economy compared to gasoline. Just imagine if similar economic policies favored zero emissions vehicles? We all vote with our wallets. Traditional business says government regulations are a drag on innovation and profitability. Fine. Let’s accept that argument as true, at least for the moment.

If so, why not eliminate all those burdensome regulations and just use pricing signals to encourage zero emissions life style choices? Make fossil fuels more expensive than the alternative and they will cease to exist within a generation. The biggest problem will be finding new careers for all those unemployed regulators.

The bottom line is that regulators have been complicit in promoting the diesel cheating mess. It is inconceivable that no one in government knew what the manufacturers were up to. They didn’t know because they chose not to know. Their protestations of surprise and indignation are just window dressing meant to hide their own incompetence and malfeasance. While criminal investigators are busy examining what manufacturers did, they should also take a hard look at what regulators failed to do.

The rampant diesel cheating did not take place in a vacuum. It takes two to tango and for the past decade European regulators have been only too happy to dance along with their partners in the automotive industry.

Source: Green Car Reports

About the Author

I have been a car nut since the days when Rob Walker and Henry N. Manney, III graced the pages of Road & Track. Today, I use my trusty Miata for TSD rallies and occasional track days at Lime Rock and Watkins Glen. If it moves on wheels, I'm interested in it. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.
  • kevin mccune

    Maybe its time for something else ,this exponential growth during the last part of the 20th century and early part of the 21st,leads me to believe that it is time for the paradigm to change.It would and could if not for greed,
    I awoke this morning and realized( as I will shortly move into my seventh decade of existence) how temporary an existence we lead . Its not like most people want to share either (most dont ) Check out the “Georgia Guidestones ” you will find out just how valuable some deem the rights and existence of the “proletariat “.
    I started thinking a little bit about the ” Hollow Folk ” and how the seizure of their homesteads and lands were accomplished ,it was said they were degenerating, that was the justification to move them out of the way to create roads to nowhere and national parks ,people simply do not grok the anonymity of the average peasant(only ( valuable as cannon fodder in the eyes of some ) the Human race will survive in some form or the other,but the question remains. Will we like the result?
    As usual ,folloe the money ,the NIMBYS and Fruitbats ,probably couldnt care less about the average person and our isolation in our steel and plastic cocoons doesnt help .Is a 200 mile commute ,pleasant or something to look forward to on a day to day basis ?

  • Ed

    Obviously, Europe has let the “CO2 = Global Warming” argument be the basis for their decision to promote Diesel…so successfully that over half of Europe’s car sales are Diesel. How does a bureaucratic organization “climb down” from that position? Tough to do…yet it must be done. I vote to avoid too much rhetoric on the matter, giving them time to make the change.

    Coming at it from another direction, we need to have the engineering world weigh in on whether a Diesel can ever be made clean enough to meet future requirements. I frankly doubt it. We know it can meet standards by pumping urea into the exhaust to help SCR, but keep in mind that we do not even attempt to measure what else might be coming out of the tailpipe once we add urea. We only measure HC, CO, NOX and estimate CO2 based on efficiency.

    With Urea injection as a reminder, the list of engineering steps we have taken over the last 60 years to make internal combustion engines run cleaner is very long:
    Computer Controls
    Fuel Injection
    Electronic Ignitions
    Oxidizing Catalytic Converters
    Air Injection
    Reducing Catalytic Converters
    Sealed Fuel Tanks
    Vapor Recovery Fuelers
    Free-Oxygen Sensors
    Electronic Throttle Control
    Hybrid ICE/Electric Powerplants
    Selective Catalyst Reduction Converters
    Urea Injection (AdBlue)
    48 Volt Mild Hybrids

    So, to your point, with the right, smart incentives, the era of the Internal Combustion Engine can begin to wind down in favor of clean vehicles for most of our needs:
    1. Hold the line on emission requirements: for over 60 years, governments have been tightening the screws on emissions, trying to allow enough time for ICE makers to adapt. Kicking and screaming, they have done so….or appeared to do so prior to Dieselgate. It should not escape our attention that an EV meets any emission requirement that might be set, because it emits nothing!
    2. Incentivize the right behaviors: Now that EVs have been shown to be practical, government agencies should add a carbon tax on vehicle fuels, increasing this over time to give the public a chance to make the change to EVs….and allow the infrastructure to catch up. And, we can expect to see EVs benefit from volumes for lower costs, longer range and shorter charging times.
    3. Harmonize standards. Let’s demand that all of the world’s governing agencies collaborate to have common emission standards. All drivers in all nations are spewing waste into the same global atmosphere.

    I will park my soapbox here….for now.

    • Steve Hanley

      Good points all. Of course, we always say that about things we agree with! I particularly like your point #2. That’s exactly what I would recommend, not that anyone cares two hoots and holler what I think.

      • Ed

        Well….maybe if it is said often enough, in enough forums, online and off…..folks will understand that ICE’s are “out of gas”!!

      • Ed

        Let me add this and ask for your consideration. The ICE world is trying to show that electric cars are very polluting when the source of electricity is considered. I think we should build the case that EV owners have earned the right to claim that their electricity comes only from the renewable portion of the grid’s power generation. This claim represents a defendable mantra that is awaiting about a paragraph of well-crafted language to explain. Interested in working on that paragraph? If successful, we could greatly dampen the anti-electric rhetoric, perhaps even getting state legislatures to agree that all emission calculations must assume that renewable electric generation goes first to clean applications that have replaced fossil fuels.

        (BTW: since nearly 40% of all California owners get their power from home solar, the claim is doubly valid.)

        • Steve Hanley

          I keep seeing so-called “news reports — no doubt planted by Koch Brothers operatives — that electric cars are dirtier than ICEs. That is true — if you are driving your Tesla in Wheeling West Virginia and recharging it exclusively on electricity from coal fired plants. But the statement is so patently absurd, that only people with less than a third grade eduction would believe it (Trump supporters, in other words.).

          Changing the electrical grid to zero emissions power is essential to completing the green car revolution. And it is happening a lot faster than the changeover to electric cars, driven by rapidly falling prices for wind and solar power. In Chile last month, a long term power purchase agreement was completed in which the supplier agreed to provide electricity at the unvelievably low price of $0.029 per kilowatt.

          Which goes to prove the point that pricing not regulation is what is needed to drive EV adoption forward.

          If you are interested in such things, we have a sister site called SolarLove.org, where the lead writer is someone I hold in the highest esteem — me!

          I’ll get to work on that magic paragraph. ; – )

          • Ed

            Let’s do it! Get me a draft when you are ready!

  • CogWheeler

    Another perspective on the discussion of “too costly to comply” is from revisiting the steps regulations such as Euro 6 and tier 2 bin 5 come from. The Clean Air Act empowers the EPA, after a standard of achieve ability is demonstrated. That includes an assessment affordability, “commercially viable”, etc. One of the reasons I still do not believe “they all cheat” is because compliance pathways exist. We’re seeing that with SCR, on currently available diesels. Without getting into the marginal emissions of light duty vehicles pushing a bit more than .07gr/mile, and what that does, or does not do to the environment relative to other NOx sources, the real question boils down to “these are the rules these are the tools, here’s what they cost, will you comply?” I give manufacturers some credit and don’t believe they “all cheat”. Regs have to be lock tight, and if Europe has no language to chase undisclosed AECDs, then as VW is unfortunately successful at arguing, their cars don’t fail to comply. We get paid. They don’t. So, at “Gas2” I’d perhaps be more reluctant to assume this conclusion. I admit, you’ve probably looked more closely at the studies, but it’s a tough nut to crack when at least the Euro laws, in effect, didn’t require real-world performance. We can argue the spirit of these laws, and we’re witnessing these companies being held to account, which is a good thing. But tests have to be more discreetly defined, and I imgaine it isn’t hard for a diesel to produce 6X Euro 6 specs, if its going up a hill, or cycling through multiple accelerations, or maybe cold. That’s the lens we also have to hold up to organizations alleging a cheat.

    VW’s faults are so egregious because they knew their obligation to disclose, to EPA, the alternative control of the amounts of diesel going to the LNT. They knew the wild multiple of allowable NOx output that would be the result. I am sorry that this is the company that produces magnificent sports cars, from Audi/Porsche as well, but it is a disservice to the other makers, in my opinion, to sort of tar them with the same brush.

    Ford achieving CMax sales on “46mpg”, when it was more like 38, or Hyundi, or Mitsubishi similarly spewing the greater amounts of CO2 that go with mpg figures they fudged, is more akin to how these other makers probably produce more NOx under certain circumstances than the prevailing interpretation of the rules. These are all “pushing the envelope”. They aren’t simply leaving the “commercially viable” equipment on the shelf, to save a few billion. What VW did is in a different league, when we try to make this “they all cheat” extension.

    Weird writing this, as I drive backwards through the boot 😉