MEP issued clear public statement in 2012 to raise alarm about car industry’s test tricks
By Mike Yuille | 8 January 2016
“We pointed out many times to the European Commission that vehicle manufacturers were cheating the emissions tests” – Aide to Janez Potocnik, former environment commissioner
European leaders failed to tackle car makers over the cheating of emissions tests despite a clear public warning back in 2012, Exaro has established.
Three years before the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) discovered that Volkswagen was using software in diesel engines to cheat emissions tests, there was growing concern in European Union institutions about trickery employed by car makers to deceive regulators over exhaust gases and vehicle performance.
So great were the worries that a British MEP even issued a press release about the “scam” in July 2012, Exaro can reveal.
Chris Davies, then a Liberal Democrat MEP and environment spokesman for his party in Europe, wrote back then: “To gain good results, vehicle manufacturers are said routinely to inflate tyres far above recommended levels and reduce wing mirrors to reduce air resistance. Computers in the car are specially programmed to pass the test.”
His reference to computers that are “specially programmed to pass the test” sounds similar to VW’s “defeat devices”, software used in engines to give false readings for emissions.
Davies focussed in his statement of 2012 on cheating tests for carbon dioxide (CO2), while the EPA initially caught Volkswagen out in September over emissions of nitrogen oxide.
Following the EPA’s findings, VW has admitted that about 11 million cars worldwide, including 8 million in Europe, are fitted with the “defeat device”. VW has since also found “irregularities” in tests to measure CO2 emissions, potentially affecting 800,000 cars in Europe – including petrol vehicles.
Davies told Exaro: “Back in 2012, it was clear to people in the European Commission, the European Parliament and member states’ governments that car makers were exploiting loopholes in the inadequate emission procedures.
“The issue is whether there was deliberate prevarication to slow the introduction of better tests, and whether lobbying by the car industry or government helped to prevent other measures being taken to put an end to cheating.”
He said that he had raised the alarm after being briefed by Transport & Environment, a Brussels-based campaign group. Greg Archer, the director at the campaign group for “greener transport” who has responsibility for policy on “clean vehicles”, said: “We never had proof, but we had suspicions that engine-management technologies were being used. This was because of the big discrepancies between CO2 emissions in real-world driving, and what the car makers were getting in the labs.”
By 2013, the worries were widely shared by senior figures at the European Commission.
Janez Potocnik, then environment commissioner, gave repeated warnings within the EC about the rigging of emissions tests. In February 2013, he wrote to Jose Manuel Barroso, then European president, and Antonio Tajani, then industry commissioner, with responsibility for EU policy on testing car emissions, to set out his concerns.
A senior official who worked for Potocnik at the time told Exaro: “We were briefed on this by environment officials around 2013. We pointed out many times to the European Commission that vehicle manufacturers were cheating the emissions tests. We sent a note on this to Barroso and Tajani.”
“We did not know for sure about defeat devices then, but we knew that cars were being set up for passing emissions tests.”
“Testing is done by member states, so the European Commission does not have jurisdiction. We wanted to deal with this, but that was also blocked.”
Tajani, who has since become an MEP and one of the European Parliament’s 14 vice-presidents, insists that he took steps to address the concerns, including the calling for “real world” testing of car emissions that the EU is set to introduce in 2017.
He says that he received warnings centred on tyre pressures rather than defeat devices.
An EC spokeswoman told Exaro: “The European Commission had no knowledge of instances of fraud until the VW revelations.”
The issue of who knew what and when at the EC about the rigging of emissions testing will be central to a “committee of inquiry” to be run by the European Parliament, after MEPs overwhelmingly voted for it last month.
Davies, the former MEP, welcomed the inquiry, saying: “It is scrutiny of this kind that dissuades companies from trying to get around the rules.”