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European Commission Introduces New Mandatory Car Emissions Tests

On 31 August 2017, the European Commission announced that, as of 1 September 2017, new car models must pass a set of new and allegedly more reliable emissions tests before they can be released on European roads. Automobiles will be tested in real driving conditions under the Commission’s Real Driving Emissions (“RDE”) procedure, which compliments the now improved World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (“WLTP”) laboratory test.

The tests represent one of several steps that the Commission has taken towards “a clean, sustainable and competitive car industry”. As the effects of the new emissions tests are expected to extend throughout the automotive industry chain, Hong Kong spare parts suppliers are advised to closely follow the implementation and application of the new rules in the EU Member States by national enforcement authorities.

By way of background, before a car is allowed to be placed on the EU market, it needs to be "type approved", which means that national authorities need to certify that the prototypes of the model meet all EU safety, environmental and conformity of production requirements before authorising the sale of the vehicle type in the EU. Currently, only a laboratory test is used to measure the air pollution emissions of a vehicle. However, for pollutants such as ultrafine particles and nitrogen oxide (NOx), emissions of some vehicles measured on the road, in reality, substantially exceed the emissions which are measured on the currently applicable laboratory test cycle (New European Drive Cycle or “NEDC”). To correct this shortcoming, the Commission proposed to measure emissions in real driving conditions and, in January 2016, put forward a new regulation to overhaul the current type approval system.

The new measures follow the Volkswagen emissions scandal, when it was revealed that the Volkswagen Group used defeat device software to circumvent EU emissions standards for certain air pollutants. According to the EU Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Mr Jyrki Katainen, the emissions scandal prompted the Commission to adopt more independence in car testing, stronger market surveillance and the possibility for the Commission to intervene in case of any wrongdoing. At the same time, Mr Katainen emphasised the importance of the EU’s efforts to reduce emissions. In a similar vein, Commissioner Elżbieta Bieńkowska, responsible for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, stated that although a shift to zero emissions vehicles would be in everyone’s interest, for the time being, diesel cars remain a part of consumers’ lives, prompting the Commission to introduce new tests to rebuild consumer confidence in the diesel technology.

In the RDE procedure, pollutant emissions – including nitrogen oxide (NOx) and particulate emissions – are measured by portable emission measuring systems (“PEMS”) that are attached to the car while driving in real conditions on the road. This means that the car will be driven outside and on a real road according to random variations of parameters such as acceleration, deceleration, ambient temperature, and payloads. RDE was developed in four separate regulatory acts (i.e., RDE Act 1, 2, 3 and 4), the first of which entered into force in 2016. The RDE procedure does not replace but complements the existing laboratory test, which has also been improved to better reflect real driving conditions, in particular to provide more realistic CO2 emission and fuel consumption figures.

As Hong Kong traders may be aware, the WLTP is a globally harmonised test procedure developed within the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (“UNECE”) with the support of the European Commission. The new WLTP test was adopted by the Commission on 1 June 2017 and it will be mandatory for all new car models placed on the EU market from September 2017, and for all new cars from September 2018.

The new emissions rules are part of a series of measures intended by the Commission to revamp the European car industry, namely:

More robust and accurate emissions tests: NOx and particulate emissions, described by the Commission as “a major cause of air pollution”, will be measured more reliably in real driving conditions (via the RDE test). The test will complement a new, more realistic laboratory test procedure (WLTP test) for all emissions including CO2 and fuel consumption, as well as NOx and other air pollutants. Both tests have become mandatory from September 2017 for all new car models and will be phased in for all new cars between 2018-2019.

Full overhaul of the type approval system: Once adopted, the Commission's proposal for a regulation will ensure greater quality and independence of vehicle testing, more surveillance of cars already in circulation, and the  introduction of EU oversight into the system.

Air quality standards: Member States will have to comply with EU limit values for a number of pollutants, including nitrogen dioxide (NO2), and establish air quality plans for the zones or agglomerations where these limit values are exceeded.

Low emissions mobility: The European Strategy for low-emissions mobility aims at increasing the efficiency of the transport system, speeding up the deployment of low-emission alternative energy for transport, and moving towards zero-emission vehicles. This focuses on a range of low-emissions alternative energy options for passenger cars and buses, as well as an emphasis on electrification in rail transport and biofuels in aviation, lorries and coaches. The Commission also plans to adopt an Action Plan for an Alternative Fuels Infrastructure to enhance the broadest use of alternative fuels in Europe by November 2017.

The Commission is also monitoring Member States’ approaches in dealing with polluting automobiles. Following the emissions scandal, the Commission developed a common testing methodology to screen for defeat devices altering the results of laboratory tests in order to ensure the consistency of results of national investigations. Further, the Commission has published guidance to help Member States' authorities assess whether a car manufacturer is using defeat devices or other strategies that may lead to higher vehicle emissions. So far, the Commission has opened infringement proceedings against eight Member States for breaching EU type approval legislation in December 2016 (i.e., against the Czech Republic, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Spain and the United Kingdom) and in May 2017 (against Italy).

The new emissions rules have been welcomed by European consumers groups. Monique Goyens, Director General of the Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs (“BEUC”) consumer group welcomed the introduction of more realistic new tests, stating that European consumers have been misled regarding the consumption level of petrol and diesel cars. BEUC called on all Member States to ensure that consumers have access to proper information no later than 1 January 2019, to ensure swift implementation of the new rules without causing confusion during the transition period. The European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (“ACEA”) also approved of the new tests, recalling that the European car industry has already invested heavily to achieve “significant improvement in emissions” in new diesel vehicles.

The new test procedures are, furthermore, designed to reduce the risk of cheating with defeat devices. In order to achieve this, the Commission considered that a wider overhaul of the actual type approval system would be needed. Therefore, in January 2016, the Commission issued a proposed Regulation to tighten EU safety, environmental and production requirements. The Commission’s proposal maintains the current ban on defeat devices, which Member State authorities have an obligation to police and enforce. However, the proposal goes one step further, stipulating that the manufacturer will have to provide access to the car's software protocols. Additionally, manufacturers will also be under an obligation to disclose their emissions reduction strategy, as is currently the case in the US.

The Commission’s proposal defines ‘manufacturer’ as “a natural or legal person who is responsible for all aspects of the type-approval of a vehicle, system, component or separate technical unit, or the individual vehicle approval, or the authorisation process for parts and equipment, for ensuring conformity of production and for market surveillance matters regarding that vehicle, system, component, separate technical unit, part and equipment produced, irrespective of whether that person is or is not directly involved in all stages of the design and construction of that vehicle, system, component or separate technical unit concerned”. This measure complements the RDE package, and is intended to make it very difficult to circumvent emission requirements. The Commission has urged the European Parliament and Council to now swiftly conclude their negotiations on this proposal.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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