BERLIN/LONDON — Renault’s flagship Espace minivan released toxic diesel emissions 25 times legal limits in a Swiss study despite complying with European Union (EU) tests carried out at unrealistically low engine temperatures, a German green group said on Tuesday.
The tests commissioned by the green lobby group DUH, which have not been independently verified, will add to pressure on car makers and legislatures in the wake of the scandal over Volkswagen’s admission that it used illegal “defeat devices” to cheat diesel regulations.
Environmental and consumer groups are leading calls for improved EU tests to bring soaring real-world emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) and carbon dioxide into line with legal limits.
The DUH, which had earlier singled out General Motors’ Opel brand over results suggesting high NOx emissions outside the regulator’s lab, turned its fire on France’s Renault in a report commissioned from the University of Applied Sciences in Bern.
When run with a warm or hot engine, a 1.6l Espace of the latest Euro 6 diesel generation emitted up to 2.06g of NOx/km, the campaign group said, more than 25 times the EU limit. The vehicle met the statutory 80mg cap only with a cold engine after “specific pre-conditioning”.
Renault did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment.
GM last month rejected similar DUH findings on its Opel Zafira model, after running its own tests monitored by Germany’s TUV certification body.
The VW diesel scandal has drawn attention to a wider pattern of routine test manipulation, short of outright cheating, that is legal under EU rules but which is now acknowledged to be inadequate even by car makers such as PSA Peugeot Citroen.
Car makers routinely strip out standard equipment to reduce test vehicles’ mass, tape up door joints and fit bald tyres that would be illegal on the road.
Tuesday’s DUH findings may shed light on the real-world impact of optimising engines to pass tests when cold — which would be another tactic allowed by the current regime.
The DUH study was published in cooperation with the Washington-based International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), which commissioned the original investigation that led eventually to the outing of VW.
“It’s unbelievable that so-called modern diesel vehicles that damage the air we breathe in this way are on the road today,” ICCT co-founder Axel Friedrich said in a statement.
Europe needed a “comprehensive reorganisation of the system in which mandatory regular controls on the street are integrated”, he said.
EU moves to phase in more accurate emissions measurements were watered down in a committee last month under sustained German-led lobbying.
VW admitted in September to rigging US diesel emissions tests, unleashing a scandal that forced out longstanding CEO Martin Winterkorn and may cost the group as much as €40bn in recall costs, fines and compensation, some analysts estimate.