EU trials new way to measure emissions but will it make a difference?

Mon Mar 21, 2016 10:47am EDT
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By Barbara Lewis and Meredith McGrath

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - An ungainly contraption that resembles a bicycle rack with tubing attached will become a common sight on cars around Europe over the coming months as a new way of measuring car pollution gains traction following the Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE: Quote) scandal.

The Portable Emission Measurement System (PEMS) aims to supplement laboratory tests -- the flaws of which were laid bare by the VW experience -- with more realistic testing on roads.

But Europeans shouldn't expect to be breathing much cleaner air in the near future, experts and analysts say, because all the testing regimens in the world won't solve the problem until the European Union introduces much tougher pollution limits and finds a foolproof way to enforce them.

VW's use of a banned "defeat device" has led to the scrutiny of a system that has allowed nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions to reach up to seven times their European limits.

EU officials who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity said that industry manipulation of the testing regime had been obvious for years. The European Commission failed to stop it, they said, because of the influence of the auto industry and because protecting a pillar of the economy was for many a higher priority than the environment.

"I was not in the least surprised when this came to light. I just thought 'finally they have been caught' but I was amazed at their stupidity in trying to cheat in the U.S.," said one of five EU officials interviewed by Reuters.

The officials, who asked not to be named because they are not authorized to speak to the press, said it was a mistake to leave vehicle regulation primarily in the hands of the industry section of the European Commission, rather than the environment department.

Although regulators did not know of anything clearly illegal going on, they were aware loopholes were being exploited and chose to tune out the problem, the officials said.   Continued...

Emissions testing takes place on a vehicle at 'Emissions Analytics' in west London. The company is an independent commercial test house using Portable Emissions Measurement Systems (PEMS) to measure real-world fuel economy and on-road emissions, London, Britain, 11 March, 2016. REUTERS/Hannah McKay