NOx lenience for RDE illegal, 80 mg/km limit perfectly feasible for diesel
The cities of Madrid, Brussels and Paris have won their case at the General Court of the European Union. They argued that to truly improve air quality, the 80 mg/km NOx limit imposed by the Euro 6 emission standard should be enforced not only in lab conditions, but also in real life – where it matters.
In 2016, the European Commission voted an amendment to the Euro 6 standard allowing NOx emissions measured during the Real Driving Emissions (RDE) test to deviate 110% from the 80 mg/km ‘lab’ limit, This deviation (or “conformity factor”) would apply between September 2017 and September 2019 on the pretext of giving car makers enough time to adjust their technology to the new RDE type approval procedure.
The court has now ruled the Commission had no such power and as technologically difficult it may be for carmakers to meet the 80 mg/km limit in real-life conditions, that does not justify the leniency.
Two years ago, car makers succeeded in convincing the Commission to raise the NOx limit for diesel engines from 80 to 168 mg/km for the Real Driving Emissions and introduce the so-called Euro 6d-temp emission standard as an intermediate step to the Euro 6d standard, which takes effect in 2020.
But how difficult is it for OEMs to make their new diesels comply both under lab and road conditions? “It is perfectly feasible. Look at the latest figures published by ADAC, which should restore faith in diesel: some Euro 6d-temp BMW models emit just 16 mg/km under real-life circumstances”, says Mark Pecqueur, automotive researcher at Thomas More University of Applied Science in Antwerp province, Belgium.
ADAC research shows that the 80 mg/km limit is perfectly feasible in real driving conditions, as demonstrated by the BMW X1 18d sDrive Steptronic.
“Carmakers will just have to spend more money on NOx treatment systems – something they tried to avoid by lobbying for the temporary deviation which has now been found illegal”, says Pecqueur. If the ruling is translated into law – which is still uncertain – these extra costs will surely be passed on to customers, making the business case even more questionable than today.
Pecqueur agrees with the court ruling, incidentally. “If you enforce a speed limit of 50 kph in town centres but only fine people if they drive faster than 105 kph, that would be unacceptable. So why should we accept 168 mg/km of NOx instead of 80 mg/km? Bad air quality is costing the average European 4 months of his life. Of course, cars are just a fraction of the pollution. Governments should also enforce emission limits to ships and power generation, for instance. “
Consequences for the industry
Fleet Europe contacted ACEA to ask for a reaction but the European carmakers’ association replied it “cannot comment on today's ECJ ruling until we have had the opportunity to fully scrutinise the complete text of the ruling.”
Christof Engelskirchen, MD Consulting & TCO Solutions of Autovista Group was willing to share his thoughts on the subject with us: “The newest diesel generation, certified with Euro 6d (temp), have NOx emissions in RDE tests far below the 80 mg, as demonstrated by ADAC and AutoMotorSport. Moreover, it is difficult to measure NOx exactly – several measurements will deliver different results. Whether this justifies a conformity factor of 110% on the 80 mg limit is of course debatable”.
“The court ruling does not mean that 80 mg/km is now set in stone. It means that the EU Commission did not have the legitimation to make the call on relaxing the 80 mg to 168 mg for RDE measurements. The law-making bodies of the EU (Parliament and Council) have now the chance to create a decree on this topic – a 12-months-window has been given.”
“For OEMs the consequences are clear: even if over the next 12 months an RDE threshold value of more than 80 mg will be confirmed, they should focus their attention on hitting 80 mg and starting a – credible – PR campaign around diesel technology," Engelskirchen reckons.
Fleets’ fear of diesel
The news surely comes at the worst possible moment. OEMs were just about to regain consumer confidence but the court ruling coinciding with the latest figures indicating that it is technically perfectly possible to hit the 80 mg target on the road seems to suggest that they still care more about profitability than about mankind.
But what should Fleet owners do? “It is our advice to avoid any rash decisions currently”, says Autovista. “First of all, there are still many use cases for diesel. Second, with supply having declined for some years it will not result in dramatic drops in residual values. Certainly cross-border remarketing will become more important to not miss out on an opportunity.”
“In Germany, several cities have implemented bans for Euro 4 diesels. Euro 5 cars can only be banned as of September 2019 according to the highest German court ruling. NOx emissions are going down in most cities and the bans may support this. It is therefore questionable whether new bans for Euro 6 cars are likely”, Christof Engelskirchen concludes.