Demanding real emissions data from your car manufacturer

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The average European car owner pays about €549 more for their fuel than car manufacturers’ data suggests. The Get Real project in Germany is pushing for more representative emissions tests and fuel consumption figures which consumers can trust. Inaccurate figures harm the environment, the consumer, and public health.

The Get Real project reported in March 2019 the results of independent emissions testing on three different cars. These tests by Emisia, an independent tester based in Thessaloniki (Greece), found an average gap of 12% between official and independent results using the so-called ‘World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test‘.

LIFE interviewed Ms Eva Lauer from the Environmental Action Germany (DUH), which is heading the project, to find out how this happens and what are the answers.

Some of the methods car makers use in lab testing seem incredible. Why is there no independent testing done on fuel consumption?

The competent authorities accept the information supplied by the manufacturers without checking them. There are no checks, something which is urgently needed; to date, no effective penalties in the event of breaches have been imposed. That is why car manufacturers have been able to ramp up their type-approval manipulations completely unhindered in the last few years.

Other countries are already way ahead of us: the US for example sets great store by independent controls, transparency and consumer information.

There, consumers can rely on official data, since the US Environmental Protection Agency checks vehicles under different test methods.

Moreover, car buyers have access to the actual consumption values of current and older vehicle models: there is an official website on the subject of fuel consumption and vehicle emissions. Drivers can enter their actual fuel consumption values there.

And in the US, injured consumers can jointly bring a class action to obtain financial compensation.
This is why the Environmental Action Germany (DUH) initiated this campaign. We are committed to ensuring that the fraudulent deception of consumers that has gone on for years is finally stopped.

Read the report on new laboratory tests and real-world fuel economy [pdf]

In your view, has there been an improvement since the Commission announced the Real Driving Emissions test and WLTP (World Harmonised Light Vehicle Test)?

The new test procedure of the WLTP, introduced in the EU in September 2017, also provides for laboratory measurements. But it will not end manufacturers‘ manipulations and will not close the gap between actual and glossed-over consumption data. What is important is the adjustment of the official type approval procedure by checking CO2 emissions in real driving conditions (RDE measurements).

Since September 2017, RDE measurements on exhaust gases have been part of the type-approval procedure of new vehicle models. So far, however, these tests only cover the particulate number and concentration of nitrogen oxides. To close the growing gap between manufacturer CO2 data and real-world emissions, on-road CO2 tests must be included in the certification procedure, and the deviation between on-road and lab values capped.

At the same time, the introduction of the WLTP leads to a nasty surprise for consumers in Germany: Since labelling has not been adapted, people cannot calculate the financial burden or climate damage of their chosen car.

Due to the inaction of the German government, manufacturers are allowed to indicate the fuel consumption values based on the NEDC for purchasing vehicles, which are generally lower than the new official WLTP figures. At the same time, motor vehicle tax is based on the generally higher WLTP values. As a result, many consumers get a nasty surprise, even considering any tax returns.

This practice is consumer deception, and the delaying tactics are harming the climate.

(Average deviation between official data and real fuel consumption)

In your report on collective redress, you show that most cases need to go through associations, not individuals, and costs are high. What would you like to see differently?

In the case of an individual action, you bear the full cost risk – both for the costs of an expert and for the proceedings themselves.

From the point of view of the consumers concerned, the most effective and least costly instrument for asserting one‘s own rights is a genuine collective action for damages. The chance to bring such an action is currently being negotiated at European level. One key element of this EU proposal is the class action suit, in which injured parties, represented by consumer protection organisations, can jointly bring an action against a company.

The advantage of collective redress mechanisms like class actions is that they combine the interests of many damaged consumers. If a class action suit is successful, it gives rights to not just the plaintiff, but also to the people who are equally affected by the facts in question.

What are the next steps for the project?

We are going to present our consumer study in other EU countries at different workshops. We are working for continued and intensified collaboration with our NGO partners around the EU. Our aim is to build a joint call with them for better consumer protection everywhere in the EU. We will also hold other workshops to discuss solutions and best practices with all relevant national stakeholders and policy makers.

We are spreading information about the real world fuel consumption of passenger cars and showing the difference between the laboratory values and the actual emissions on the road. This is not only important for the existing fleet but also for the future: only if we manage to achieve realistic fuel numbers we will see CO2 reduction in the real world, which is crucial to meet our climate targets.

A major instrument in this context are mandatory RDE tests for CO2 which we push for.

Consumer tips
Consumer tips for dealing with higher fuel consumption [pdf]
Watch the video and spread the word

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