Depth of German automaker ‘cartel’ lies are astounding

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Audi has just recalled 850,000 cars. Mercedes-Benz? Three million more. And BMW may have recalled “merely” 350,000, but that is still a huge number for a company that prides itself on quality and safety.

Why? According to CNN Money, it seems that, much like Volkswagen, some of their diesel-powered cars are, well, not quite meeting nitrogen oxide emissions standards. As it turns out, Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal may have just been the tip of one extremely dirty, noxious vapour-belching iceberg.

How deep does the rot go? Well, Der Spiegel reports that German automakers have long been colluding to fix the price and design of all their diesel emissions reduction systems. Automotive News went even further, calling the conspiracy nothing short of a “German emissions treatment systems cartel.” EU anti-trust authorities, meanwhile, are supposedly investigating that said cartel tried to mandate everything from the overall design of catalytic convertors right down to the size of the onboard tanks that hold the diesel’s engine’s emissions treatment fluid (see why that matters here).

None of this should come as a surprise. As Driving has detailed over these last 20 months or so, there is a corruption to the European automotive business that would make Tony Soprano blush. Indeed, never mind that Volkswagen AG obfuscated, delayed and hindered the investigation into its nitrogen oxide emissions at every juncture since that fateful September 18th two years ago, such malfeasance has been part of the European auto industry for decades and extends to the very highest levels of both corporate and governmental boardrooms.

Just for starters, as we detailed when the Dieselgate first erupted, when European automakers perform emissions tests, they are allowed what their EU master’s call “flexibilities.” Said flexibilities allow automakers such tricks as overcharging the battery so the alternator doesn’t become a drain on the engine, taping up the headlights to improve aerodynamics and, I am fairly sure even the least mechanically minded reader will understand the treachery of this last one, prying back the test car’s brake pads to reduce rolling friction. And, as the coup de grace, since the EU’s rules allow up to a one per cent grade, yup, many emissions and fuel economy testing test tracks in Europe do indeed have a downward slope.

How effective are these manipulations? Well, according to one study — Supporting Analysis Regarding Test Procedure Flexibilities and Technology Deployment for Review of the Light Duty Vehicle CO2 Regulations — fully 34 per cent of all the improvements European automakers claimed in CO2 reduction between 2002 and 2010 may have been the result of the flexibilities — oh, let’s call them what they really are; outright cheating — allowed during the emissions tests. Yes, one-third of all the carbon dioxide reduction that the EU automakers love to brag about — often noting how much more fuel efficient their cars are than our own domestic products — are completely illusory.

Nor has the effects of these scams been a mystery to the governmental types now claiming to be scandalized by the automakers collusions. One study — Don’t Breathe Here: Tackling air pollution from vehicles by the Brussels-based Transport & Environment group — revealed that barely more than 15 per cent (just 23 out of 146 cars tested) of European diesel powered cars managed to meet European NOx standards in real-world driving. These included products from Audi, BMW, Opel, Volkswagen and Mercedes-Benz (as well as Citröen). And no, Volkswagen wasn’t the worst offender.

Nor is this information a recent development, the Transport & Development’s information published in September of 2015, the data collected long before the EPA made its surprise announcement on September 18th. Indeed, the main difference between research by the University of West Virginia’s — they who exposed Volkswagen’s “defeat device” — and the plethora of European studies that preceded it is simply that the EPA took to heart what their counterparts in the EU had long ignored.

Nor is this governmental lassitude restricted to the European Commission. In February 2016, automakers finally admitted that, while some of their cars can meet the EU’s NOx emissions limits in laboratory testing, they couldn’t meet the same standards on real roads. So, with the commission threatening to impose Real Driving Emissions (RDE) tests as soon as 2017, state governments representing their automakers argued for “conformity factors” — a fudge factor if you will — that would allow their cars to continue polluting more during real-world driving and still be deemed as meeting the emissions standards.

The result was that European MEPs voted to allow diesels to emit 110 per cent more nitrogen oxide — 168 grams of NOx per kilometre instead of 80 g/km — driving on real roads than they are allowed in the laboratory. Yes, rather than holding the automakers’ feet to the fire and forcing them to comply with the regulations, the European parliament simply raised the limit. The choice part of this saga is that, according to The Guardian, the three countries — Germany, France and England — that lobbied hardest for these conformity factors were also the governments that, when Dieselgate broke, most publicly castigated Volkswagen for its villainy. And yes, you guessed it, they’re also the three countries with automakers that rely most on diesel engines to meet the EU’s CO2 mandates.

So, yes, carmakers may have indeed played a little fast and loose with their emissions testing, but for the EU commission to claim that they are only now recognizing the duplicity of German automakers is a little like Donald Trump Jr. noting that “now that you mention it, I may have met with a few Russians.” Credibility, as we are all finding out, is as much when you say as what you say.

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