Dieselgate: new initiatives and proposals in Europe
The fake emission test scandal, the now famous Dieselgate, which so heavily damaged Volkswagen both economically and in terms of reputation, is causing an uproar even on current motor vehicles test approval systems and their reliability. Some members of the European Parliament, during the course of a plenary meeting on harmful emissions, asked the Commission to conduct an urgent, transparent and thorough investigation on Volkswagen’s emission test violations as well as car manufacturers in general.
Shifting the spotlight from Volkswagen, the issue was considered in broader terms, and in order to examine it into detail the Commission was questioned by the Chairmen of the Environment, Internal Market , Industry and Transport Parliamentary Committees. Many issues, of course, were placed under investigation, starting from the potential manipulation of approval tests, to the responsibility of each national approval body, test centers and details of specific pollutants such as NOx and CO2, moving to the Commission’s initiatives to promote standard tests and procedures for a sustainable transport system. The general tone of the discussion showed a general concern about the lack of attention paid on the issue in the past and the urgency now to apply stricter measures through both, the application of existing regulations and by introducing new tests able to verify the real emissions in real driving conditions (RDE - Real Driving Emissions). Currently in fact, Diesel emissions, as well as for any other vehicle, are measured through laboratory tests that can simulate driving conditions but do not reflect the real conditions and can, therefore, be subject to "tricks" that artificially reduce emission levels.
In response, The Commissioner for the Internal Market and Industry, Elzbieta Bienkowska, reassured the Members of Parliament on the full involvement of the Commission in the investigation, to determine the facts as well as enforce existing laws. Investigations are currently underway in several member states, including Italy, which have announced zero tolerance on fraudulent practices. The Commission will follow the program set for the adoption of the RDE package aimed at accelerating legislative changes in the field of emission tests during approval procedures. Furthermore, as a short term goal, the Commission aims to improve the sector’s management and monitoring through a number of legislative revisions on approval directives.
Incidentally, a study in the field of emission tests, called SET, was completed last September. This study, sponsored by the EU Commission itself was performed by CITA (International Motor Vehicle Inspection Committee), which brings together the main European legislative bodies, and recently published the results where new improved emission testing methods for diesel and petrol vehicles were defined. The SET project was created as an in-depth analysis of a previous project, called TEDDIE, performing field tests on a sample of vehicles operating in real driving conditions during real periodic inspection procedures.
The project proposes in addition to the current tests also one that measures fine particulates and carbon monoxide, using OBD test to complement these inspections. The proposed new procedures intend to ensure that the emission levels of pollutants are maintained throughout the life of the vehicle. CITA’s study, commissioned over a year ago, in “tempore non suspecto”, provides guarantees not only when a new vehicle is manufactured, but also during its entire life.
Yet something positive still came from the Dieselgate scandal, besides underlining certain deficiencies of the system. This issue confirmed the attention of both European and American citizens toward environmental problems. The echo, caused also by the sheer size and reputation of the suspect, was the sign of a new social conscience, attentive and able to push politicians to act with renewed force in the direction of environmental protection.
C-ITS: a free access to a common telematic platform
As we know, the European Parliament has approved the e-Call (emergency call) in case of accident for all kinds of motor vehicles; an important safety device also in relation to the use of emergency vehicles.
A commendable initiative from the point of view of the citizen, no doubt. But one that sparked a fight over the telematic access to vehicles that goes well beyond the so called “e-call”. We are talking about permanently connected vehicles for any use, from e-call to remote services, business and entertainment.
The implications are clearly huge: car manufacturers, telecommunication companies and Internet operators see this as a unique, not to be missed opportunity.
Those who risk being left out, as noted by EGEA - European Garage Equipment Association, of which AICA is the Italian member - are independent operators, private garages and suppliers of spare parts and services, once again in the grip of the big boys.
The question is: who has access to the in-car telematics system, now made mandatory by the e-call, and how? The European Parliament adopted an amendment mandating the European Commission to assess the need for an "interoperable, standardized, secure and open access" electronic platform. This would allow also independent operators to access any on-board telematic system.
To comply with the request, the European Commission has therefore set up a forum, called C-ITS (Co-operative Intelligent Transport System), where EGEA is involved in technical and management subcommittees. The technical subcommittee is organized in four 'task forces' to deal with the different aspects of the platform: diagnostics, vehicle interface, server and data access.
Ongoing discussions in Brussels, though of a technical nature, still reflect vested interests from some of the parties involved. The topics on the table are many: OBD door lock control is now a reality, see the case of the new Volvo XC90; the proposed standard server; the possibility to filter the data, and much more. It is clear that manufacturers are trying to maintain their status of superiority hiding behind smokescreens like safety issues and product liability. Their intent is clearly to monopolize maintenance and repair services over and above what they are already doing and therefore discriminate a healthy competition with independent garages which can bring many benefits to motorists.
Pending the completion of the interoperable platform, car manufacturers continue to support and propose the idea of using a remote server that would allow them, however, to control and filter any access. Independent operators, on the other hand, in order to avoid possible inhibition of access, propose an open and non-discriminatory system. Considering the new scenario introduced by the e-call, two interconnected instruments have been proposed: a shared server which allows equal access to a great amount of data combined with a standard hardware interface, a kind of "OBD +", which, in addition to accessibility, has also the ability to support a greater amount of data and functions as the new scenario requires.
AFCAR, the Alliance for the Freedom of Car repair services in the EU, of which EGEA is a member, has no doubts whatsoever: a true interoperable platform, as suggested by the European Parliament, able to manage multiple and different applications, is the only solution to avoid discrimination and predominant positions.
In the political challenge for free competition it will perhaps be necessary to reach some kind of compromise, for example, some kind of access code which, though not discriminatory, will still allow a measure of monitoring. But the Commission must clarify its position if the work is to proceed further.
Refrigerants: Mercedes bows to the European Commission
The European Commission’s firmness in the use of refrigerants with a much lower environmental impact than previous ones, forced even Daimler to bow down. The issue has, for years, been at the center of a dispute between the European Union and Germany to the point that the EU has launched an infringement procedure against the German government that has supported Mercedes in insisting with the old R123a gas rejecting at the same time the new R1234yf developed by Honeywell in partnership with Dupont.
The reason for Daimler’s refusal was, according to them, the greater flammability of the new gas. The objection, however, was not shared by any other manufacturer, given the repeated and exhaustive studies performed on the new gas. In this regard Daimler confirmed that they will equip their vehicles using R1234yf gas with a special protective system.
European Directives requires all vehicles to be equipped with refrigerants with an environmental impact not more than 150 times that of CO2. Daimler has announced that in 2017 their Mercedes E-class and S-class will be equipped with air conditioning systems that use CO2. As you know CO2, inherently non-impactive, requires a high pressure for condensation, in the order of more than 20 times higher than what is required by the R1234yf gas. The question is: if what is gained in terms of protection is then lost in wasted energy, where is the benefit for the environment?