Watchdog Group Says Other Car Companies Are Cheating On Emissions All The Time

Illustration for article titled Watchdog Group Says Other Car Companies Are Cheating On Emissions All The Time

Volkswagen admitted to cheating on emissions tests with 11 million TDI engines worldwide, but are they alone in this? That’s what regulators and NGOs around the globe are trying to figure out at the moment, and at least one European group fears BMW, Mercedes and General Motors are doing the same kind of thing.


Discrepancies between real-world diesel emissions and what they record during testing in Europe have been an issue for some time, but the issue hasn’t really caught traction until VW’s gross flouting of regulations came to light.

According to Automotive News, the European Federation for Transport and Environment issued a report this month, before Dieselgate blew up, raising “doubts about the integrity of Europe’s emissions testing.”

The federation doesn’t believe real-world fuel economy and emissions improvements have actually kept up with automakers’ claims, and they say the difference between lab tests and reality is wider than ever.

Transport & Environment says ICCT tests show clear discrepancies between laboratory emissions and real-world performance for several automakers including BMW, Mercedes-Benz and General Motors’ Opel unit. It argued that these manufacturers might also employ similar kinds of software in Europe that VW has allegedly admitted to using in the U.S.

Emissions-reducing technologies “are optimized for the tested conditions and there is substantial anecdotal evidence that the cars detect when they are tested and deploy ‘cycle-beating’ techniques to reduce emissions,” Transport & Environment said in its report.

“Other manufacturers are basically on the same line” as Volkswagen, said Francois Cuenot, Transport & Environment’s air quality officer.

The group says VW is just the tip of the iceberg here, claiming that there are too many discrepancies in testing to suggest otherwise. Additionally, from the New York Times:

In fact, the group’s testing found that the average diesel car was producing emissions five times as high as what was permitted. Some vehicles from BMW and Opel emitted 10 times as much pollution on the road as in the lab.

The difference between the lab and real-world results swelled to 40 percent last year, on average, from 8 percent in 2002, the group also found.


So far BMW and Mercedes (and possibly GM too, although I haven’t seen it yet) have issued statements denying they engage in emissions-rigging. And to BMW’s credit, when the group that caught VW tested a diesel X5 in California under the same circumstances, it performed at or below certification emission levels.

But there’s certainly a historic precedent for cheating on emissions test. That New York Times story points out several instances of this dating back to the Nixon Era. GM got in hot water for doing it in the 1990s, as did the makers of large diesel trucks. The latter case led to a massive lawsuit and settlement.


Furthermore, it’s really tough to believe that VW was somehow alone in this, and only with a certain subset of their huge family of engines. Maybe that’s possible, but it’s hardly plausible. And with regulators like the EPA dependent on automakers to test emissions themselves using OBD codes rather than actual tailpipe tests, can you expect them not to cheat to one degree or another?

One last thing to add, from the NYT:

No matter the offense, penalties have often been fleeting. Executives are not jailed; fines are manageable.


I don’t think VW’s fines in a case this massive will be “manageable,” and I’m not calling for everyone to be locked away without a key. It’s too early and there’s too many unknowns for that quite yet. But if there’s one other big thing we’re learning from Dieselgate, it’s that emissions regulation — from testing to punishing violators — isn’t as stringent as everyone seems to think it is.

Photo credit AP

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This seems so easy to prevent though. Have the EPA randomly buy a couple cars every year, and do testing at the tailpipe. Don’t plug anything into the car and drive it around a loop/course. If it fails by a wide enough margin (lets be real, the ideal lab tests aren’t going to be duplicated in the real world), it gets bumped to a second level where more intensive testing happens and the brand has a chance to defend themselves.