European Union nations have reached a tentative deal on tougher emissions tests for diesel cars after the Volkswagen scandal showed previous methods were ineffective. The slow phase-in of the new standards, however, drew fire from environmentalists.
Emissions from cars on the road in the EU have been found to be four to five times above the official limits. That's largely because the current tests are done in labs, where carmakers are legally able to cut corners to pass the tests.
The EU's executive Commission said Wednesday that the new tests will more closely resemble real road conditions. The agreement still needs the backing from the European Parliament.
Until now, car companies had legal ways to cheat on emissions tests. They used a single example of the car model - a so-called “golden vehicle” - that was outfitted especially to do well on the tests. The back seats might be pulled out to reduce weight, for example, or the doors taped over to reduce air drag.
In the U.S., which has also relied on lab tests of car emissions, Volkswagen went further, illegally using software in its diesel engines to make sure they passed the tests. It meant that the cars on the road emit far above the technical limits, which were imposed to protect people from hazardous exhausts.
The revelations about the testing methods have severely undermined confidence in the ability of European authorities to keep the automotive industry in line.
The EU plan will require carmakers to bring emissions in line over a period of years.
New models will be allowed to exceed more than twice the EU emissions limits until September 2017, while new vehicles will have until 2019.
The amount by which new models will be allowed to exceed the emissions limits will be reduced to 1.5 times by 2020 and by 2021 for all new vehicles.
Environmentalists up in arms
The leeway car producers will still get ran into immediate opposition from activitists.
“Allowing car manufacturers to completely disregard car standards for another five years is terrible news for our environment and for consumer trust in European car brands,” said Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, a European Parliament member for the liberal ALDE group.
EU Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska said “the EU is the first and only region in the world to mandate these robust testing methods.”
Experts from the 28 EU nations approved the methods by a “large majority.”