The controversy around the tests conducted by auto manufacturers to determine the carbon emissions of their vehicles have been reignited at the start of 2013 by a European Commission report published quietly at the end of December.
The consultancy report conducted for the Commission concludes that auto manufacturers are using flexibilities in the testing procedures to make it appear their vehicles emit less carbon than they actually do in real-world driving conditions. The techniques could account for as much as half of the recorded drop in average fleet average CO2 emissions between 2002 and 2010, the report concludes.
The report says the tests are not mimicking real-world driving conditions but rather creating conditions favourable to less CO2 use. For instance, tyres with extra traction could be used, or a very powerful type of oil could be used during the test that wouldn't be used by a normal driver. Though these conditions can be created at a factory, they would not be found on the road. But the automakers are still allowed to use them. The results of the tests are used for information on emissions and fuel efficiency for consumer labelling.
Environment and consumer campaigners have highlighted the report as further evidence that the EU needs to intervene to close these loopholes. But automakers have stressed that they are doing everything by the book and their results have been validated by national authorities. The problem, stress campaigners, is that as long as the flexibilities are allowed, it is in the natural interest of the automakers to use them.
Consumers organisation BEUC calculates that consumers risk paying €135 more per year than they would if the tests were conducted reflecting real driving conditions. Last month BEUC wrote to Antonio Tajani, European commissioner for industry, expressing their concern over the test cycle issue.
The European Parliament's environment committee is set to debate the issue next week (24 January). The new Commission report will likely add to the pressure to change the way tests are done.
Dave Keating reports on the interrelated issues of environment, energy, climate change, transport, health, agriculture, fisheries and research for European Voice. In this blog, Dave brings you insights into the sometimes byzantine world of European Union policymaking as well as the equally confusing nature of life in Brussels. Originally from outside New York City, Dave has lived in Europe for six years. He can be reached at DaveKeating@economist.com.