Self-delusion on auto emissions


Last December the Commission published a report on auto emissions which seems to me to be fairly explosive, yet so far as I know it got remarkably little publicity.

Over the last ten years, the official figures for auto emissions fell by 15%.  A triumph for EU emissions policy!  A victory in the fight against climate change!  Except that this report shows that they didn’t.  We’ve been kidding ourselves.  This report shows that at least a third, and quite possibly up to half, of the claimed emissions reductions were the result of manufacturers exploiting “flexibilities” in the testing procedure.

Given that the standard EU tests for emissions are very precisely specified, you may be surprised that there are any flexibilities at all.  Yet it seems that there are – and rather lot of them.  Examples include (but are not limited to) wheel alignment; brake adjustment; driveline preparation; ambient conditions – temperature, pressure, wind, humidity; tyres – type, pressure and wear; vehicle weight and body type; driver influence, using tolerances in the driving cycle; optimised measurement; variation in gear shifting; and battery state of charge.  I admit that I have simply copied this list from the report, and I’m not quite sure exactly what they all mean.

There is even talk of tape being applied around the doors and to other breaks in the bodywork to reduce drag further.

I am not criticising either the car manufacturers or the testing bodies here.  In a competitive world, you can’t criticise commercial companies for presenting their product in the best light consistent with the rules – though taping the seams may seem to be going a bit far.

These facts reminded one of my colleagues of the bad old days in the USSR, when the statistics on tractor production had to follow a steady upward path, even when there was a fire at the factory.  In the EU, emissions have to keep coming down – even when they don’t.

This is a wonderful example of self-delusion in Brussels.  One of the key planks of the EU’s emissions reduction policy (itself rapidly starting to look like an expensive white elephant) turns out to be a mirage, an artefact of the wriggle-room in the rules.


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14 Responses to Self-delusion on auto emissions

  1. Eric Worrall says:

    If the soviet experience is any guide, the delusion reaches all the way to the top.

    According to the CIA, the reason why they were taken by surprise by the collapse of the evil empire is they didn’t realise just how bad the Soviet economy was – but neither did the Kremlin! The CIA had access to pretty much the same set of reports as the Kremlin did, but even the Kremlin was being deceived by lies from underlings.

    The purpose of this monograph is to argue that judgments on CIA’s performance on the Soviet Union should be based on a straightforward comparison of the record and the events. If the CIA is to be judged as having failed, it should be because the picture painted in the CIA products was/is incorrect. It is useful, however, to put the GNP arguments in the context of the substantive intelligence questions at issue regarding the Soviet Union.

    The lesson is, when your boss asks you to assess your own performance, there is no incentive to report your personal failures. The EU has deliberately decided to make itself unauditable – now it shall reap what it sowed.

  2. Me_Again says:

    Here’s the answer to a trivial pursuit question. One cow annually farts the equivalent greenhouse gas of 12,000 cars.

  3. The barriers to entry of the motor car industry are such that there hasn’t been a new entry to the market since the 1920s, except for foreign companies which can establish themselves outside the bureaucracy.

    Not surprising then that the manufacturers and bureaucracy could agree on rules that do not reflect reality.

    (It is possible that Tesla will establish themselves in the way that Sinclair and De Lorean didn’t – these being the 3 most innovative road transport companies of that period)

    • HiggenDunbeath says:


      I agree with you that EU regs kill off many businesses before they are able to go ahead, but you are wrong to say no players have entered the market since the 1920s.

      • neilfutureboy says:

        Point taken. I should have said no significant company. The tiny niches that are all these can establish proves my basic point.

  4. ex Expat Colin says:

    I was hoping to encounter an Exec Summary very early on in this report. Nope…had to goto the end to find this little piece of stark reality:

    “Overall the conclusion is that this study has generated convincingly strong indications that the
    reductions in CO2 emissions of light duty vehicles, as observed over the last decade, can be
    attributed to a combination of deployment of CO2 reducing technologies, increased utilisation of test flexibilities and a range of smaller factors, including changes in vehicle characteristics which affect CO2 emissions and shifts in sales between different size classes”

    We largely know about CO2 reducing technologies. Test flexibilities is a new one to me. Test specs are rigid and do express tolerances (bandwidths?). Smaller factors head off into the weeds I reckon. Tweak what you like, just keep the test object in spec with those allowable bandwidth things. Stop advertising results that are not achievable by user driving patterns, thats the normal driving stuff of course ? (I meant wideband user driving patterns)

    I’d have to read this report over a good few days and reduce it to about 5 pages and some graphs etc. Where the target test(s) result is to be severely tightened then I’d say this report simply highlights massive futility and very high cost. I suppose it fits in with pushing us toward electric vehicles and messing with CO2 at a power station, jam it down an old oil well. Need a report on that topic really…a very long awkward one if possible.

    As an aside, I have watched/heard MOT testers thrash my engines trying to get conformance from the Lamda sensor. One told me the O2 figure was BMW’s fault for creating that number.

    I have seen BMW USA tell their franchises to quit sending back (replacing) catalytic converters so often because too many are not faulty, (BMW TIS). Its a game isn’t it ?

    • Eric Worrall says:

      Whenever I took my diesel car for a MOT test, I made sure the engine was nice and warm, to improve its emission figures.

      Its not difficult to fiddle the tests.

      • ex Expat Colin says:

        Trouble is they’ll leave it to cool for about an hour as they deal with other customers. I’ve watched it a few time as my engine pollutes (saturates) their exhaust sniffer unexpectedly. Change sniffer and mess about for another 30 mins. I had told one of them that I had a test flexibility item in the boot. They did wonder till I pulled out a new air filter and run the test again. BMW O2 figure was achieved spot on this time on a 12 yr old car!! Terrible stuff really.

    • ex Expat Colin says:

      Forgot this:

      Also where is our own Vehicle tester (MIRA). I only recognises AEA here.

    • Colin: I think the point here is that the tests do indeed specify, very tightly, all the variables that the bureaucrats thought important. But there are many other criteria they didn’t think of — but the auto companies and test laboratories did.

      • ex Expat Colin says:

        Acknowledged Roger. Each time I see a report like this I will need to up my prescription frequency I reckon.
        I hope the reported rumble(?) at Brussels last week from Germany will be helpful… in the right sense. That would be about the lower emissions target that relates to this report…I suspect. More pills please!

        Your letter to the D. Telegraph was well appreciated.

  5. nollyprott says:

    The introduction of Traffic Calming ( with the blessing of the EU ) probably increases overall UK transport emissions by 10%, nearer 50% in traffic calmed areas and other safety devices like new roundabouts in trunk roads since 1990 !

  6. Chris says:

    I read a review where an American motor journalist was testing the Corvette and could not get anywhere near the 0 to 60 mph times quoted by the manufacturer. When he asked the company representative, he showed him. The company did the 0 to 60 by changing the gears without using the clutch.

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