29.10.2015European body agrees to relax emissions restrictions
European policy-makers have agreed to a petition backed by many of its member governments to relax nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions limits for vehicles. This would see new diesel vehicles allowed to emit more than twice the current 80mpg/km NOx limit that came into effect with the Euro 6 engine regulations at the beginning of September this year.
With attention focused on the pending decision in the wake of the VW emissions scandal - in which NOx levels play a huge part in subsequent investigations - policy-makers at the European Commission agreed to submit the new relaxed emissions cap to the European Parliament, the body that could set the proposals into law.
The question of changes and increases to allowed emissions levels has come about as Europe prepares to become the first region in the world to implement the real driving emissions (RDE) test into regulations. This test gathers data from cars that are actually being driven through a set cycle, rather than simply using information obtained from a rolling road in a laboratory. It is widely accepted that the current way of testing for emissions is fundamentally flawed and the implementation of RDE tests is welcomed across the board.
In recent months however, EU member states, including the UK, have presented a petition to relax the proposed rules changes, giving manufacturers more time to adjust to the new and far more accurate limits. Previously, the plans had been to start the RDE tests early in 2016 to see where vehicles are currently positioned compared to currently quoted emissions levels. For the first 20 months, no on-road emissions limits from the RDE tests would be enforced.
From September 2017, manufacturers would have been allowed to emit up to twice the Euro 6 NOx limit of 80mg/km, with the final step yet to be agreed upon, but expected to have been a limit close to current levels in 2019.
The new proposal will now allow for manufacturers to produce vehicles emitting more than twice the legal limit (110 per cent increase) for new models as of September 2019, with the second step bringing the allowed discrepancy down to a 50 per cent increase in the legal limit by January 2021. This new proposal will allow new cars to emit 160mg/km of NOX until 2019, which is only 20mg/km NOx less than the Euro 5 limit that came into force in 2009. Even in 2021, new models will still be able to emit 120mg/km NOx without any legal reprisals for the manufacturers.
The implementation of a new emissions test regime should have a changeover period to allow manufacturers to catch up with the more accurate emissions findings. However, the allowed discrepancy levels have already increased before test procedure has even begun, with the likelihood that further petitions at a later date will delay lower emissions levels even more. The RDE test is a good thing, one that will genuinely help clean up the air we breathe - but only if manufacturers get on board and genuinely cut emissions levels.
The proposals could still be rejected when they go before the European Parliament, though it must be said that with such strong support from many of the EU's member states, it is unlikely the relaxed limits will be blocked.