VW lobbied to soften EU emissions tests

The New York Times reports that last year a Volkswagen executive lobbied a European Commission (EC) committee in charge of setting emissions test measures for 2017 to get rid of two new testing protocols. Every business lobbies to get its way, but the circumstances of this specific lobbying are garnering particular scrutiny. The executive, writing on behalf of the European Automobile Manufacturer's Association (ACEA), insisted that provisions in the draft regulations of a test to measure emissions during cold starts and a specific test for emissions at very high speeds "must be deleted."

Gasoline engines emit far more noxious products when they're started cold, before their emissions machinery like the catalytic converter has warmed up. The VW executive's e-mail on that topic said that the cold start test as currently worded is not specific enough for automakers to agree to and must be excluded. The EC committee dropped it from the draft, but said it will be refining the wording and including the test in new addenda before 2017.

The EC committee was also working on a new high-speed on-road test to measure emissions when traveling around 100 miles per hour and more. It appears European automakers - not just VW - got the provision capped at around 91 mph, with stints of 100-mph driving to take up no more than three percent of the overall test. The automaker-proposed limit had been 81-mph, but the VW executive said automakers would allow another ten mph as long as the high-speed test was dropped. True, VW would have the most to hypothetically lose in such a scenario, being corporate parent to several high-speed brands. But that's not exactly a real-world test, either; the only two EU countries with a speed limit greater than 130 kph (81 mph) are Bulgaria with 140 kph and Germany with its shrinking miles of unrestricted Autobahn.

The VW executive is said to have written the e-mail in question on behalf of the entire ACEA. An ACEA spokeswoman told the Times that she wasn't sure how the other automakers in the group felt about the issues in the e-mail, but that the group is "fully supporting the development" of real-world tests. Less ambiguous is Audi's involvement in regulations to overhaul laboratory procedures for the 2017 tests, the German carmaker having been involved in the process since 2010, and a German transport minister in charge of the group putting the regs together. Absolutely unambiguous was German chancellor Angela Merkel's complaint to then-California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Air Resources Board that the state's regulations were crimping sales of German cars there.

Some EU committee members feel these first attempts at the 2017 regulations are now so compromised that they will have to reject them. If that happens, the regs will go to the full European Union Parliament, and observers aren't sure if they will pass or fail there. If they fail, they'll go back to the committee for a second attempt.

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