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Volkswagen’s Dieselgate Scandal Puts Home Appliances under Scrutiny

On 18 September 2016, an investigation by a consortium of NGOs into the home appliance industry was announced, which could be seen as a spill-over effect of Volkswagen’s “Dieselgate” scandal that erupted on the same day last year in 2015.

The project, entitled Smart Testing of Energy Products (STEP), will use accredited laboratories to test and detect whether popular models of home appliances, such as televisions, refrigerators, and dishwashers, contain mechanisms designed to evade standard tests provided under relevant EU energy efficiency legislation. The project is intended to discover other inefficiencies and loopholes that could give rise to inconsistencies with European product standards. The consortium leading the project comprises several companies, and includes organisations such as Coolproducts, Topten, and CLASP.

In this respect, Francisco Zuloaga, sustainable energy consultant for STEP, highlighted similarities between regulatory problems in the measurement of emissions in the automotive sector and those in home appliances. In this context, he referred to the findings and recommendations of a recently published report of the European Parliament on emission measurements in the EU automotive sector.

The report’s key findings included the presence of discrepancies and weaknesses in emission measurement of the test called “New European Driving Cycle”, as well as its inability to represent real-world driving emissions, which Coolproducts, the leading member of the consortium, saw as applicable for home appliances as well.

Coolproducts additionally called for the implementation of the same measures given in the report’s recommendations for many years. These include: (i) streamlining existing legislation and regulations; (ii) tests that reflect consumer usage of products (referred to as “Real Driving Emissions” in the automotive sector); (iii) the conduct of the test by independent bodies and independent test laboratories; and (iv) the imposition of clear sanctions for breaching emissions legislation.

The importance and necessity of implementing these measures, for both the automotive and home appliances sectors, was emphasised by Mr. Zuloaga, who stressed that “following Dieselgate, carmakers were given permission to pollute above what the rules say: 110% on top of the legal limit of 80mg/km starting from 2017, and 50% from 2020 onwards. For home appliances and electronics, a tolerance loophole allowed manufacturers to legally overstate the energy performance of their products, leading to €2 billion in consumer losses per year”.

The nature of certain past issues was also underlined by the consortium to justify the investigation and the STEP project itself. In 2010, LG was apparently caught interfering with its refrigerators through an illegal circumvention device used to make said refrigerators appear more energy-efficient than they actually were. LG was, it is stated, found guilty and was ordered to pay $3 million AUD before the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. Similarly, in 2008, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission is said to have ruled that LG had inflated the energy-efficiency star rating of five models of air-conditioners. Bosch was also recently reported to have conspired with Volkswagen to develop technology that enabled diesel vehicles to evade pollution-control tests back in 2008. 

The results of the STEP project are expected to be published by the end of 2016.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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