Eight years after the diesel scandal broke in 2015, the legal process is still ongoing. Lawsuits are pending before dozens of courts in Germany. According to a new report on exhaust emissions, more could be added to those already in progress: According to a study by the ICCT research association, 77 percent of diesel models with the Euro 5, 6b and 6c emissions standards have "suspiciously" high nitrogen oxide emissions.
The researchers' results are based on the evaluation of extensive test data from diesel vehicles in Europe, which come from both the laboratory and the field. More than 200 vehicle models showed high nitrogen oxide emissions above the "suspicious" threshold. 150 models even showed "extreme" deviations from the legally permitted values. The excessive emissions indicated the "probable use" of illicit defeat devices, which may be classified as banned following recent rulings by the European Court of Justice (ECJ).
The new investigation could become a problem for automakers. Just this week, the ECJ agreed with a plaintiff from Germany and with its judgment lowered the hurdles for claims for damages by diesel buyers. In this case it was a Mercedes. According to the judges, however, car manufacturers could also be liable if they acted negligently, i.e. without the intention of fraud.
The new ICCT report is also explosive because the research association started the diesel emissions scandal in 2015. At that time, the researchers found significantly higher nitrogen oxide values than permitted in a VW Passat and VW Jetta in practice. Numerous German manufacturers such as Daimler, Porsche and Audi were affected. At VW alone, the penalties amount to 30 billion euros.
The current ICCT report refers to diesel models with Euro 5 and Euro 6 approval, of which around 53 million vehicles were sold in Europe between 2009 and 2019. According to the ICCT definition, the evaluation found excessive values for models from the car brands VW, Audi, Mercedes, Opel, Nissan, Ford and Volvo.
To do this, the researchers examined emission values that were determined in tests by state and independent organizations from 2016 onwards. "The results of independent tests and remote sensing campaigns show that up to 100 percent of the average values of both vehicle models and engine families exceed the threshold for suspect emissions," writes the research team.
In fact, at least 40 percent of official tests found "extreme" NOx emissions, suggesting that a prohibited defeat device is almost certainly in place. The "extreme" threshold therefore designates an emission level that is so far above the legal limit values that explanations other than the presence of a defeat device are highly unlikely.
Other explanations are also conceivable, such as undiscovered malfunctions in individual vehicles or non-functioning measuring devices. But that is extremely rare. "Therefore, to account for the remaining small degree of uncertainty, we conclude that tests and vehicle models exceeding the extreme threshold indicate that the use of a defeat device is almost, but not completely, safe," the researchers conclude.
When asked by Capital, the automakers contradicted the statements in the study. At Stellantis, the parent company of Opel and Peugeot, it is said that they do not know the details of the study and therefore cannot comment on them. "But we are fundamentally convinced that all of our vehicles have always met the legal requirements," said a company spokesman.
Volkswagen and the Group subsidiary Audi responded in a similar way: None of the Volkswagen Group vehicles mentioned contain "according to the current status an impermissible defeat device," according to a joint statement. The group also points out that the ICCT's limit value statements are "regulatory and legally incorrect". VW justifies this by saying that the RDE measurements to which the ICCT study refers have only existed since the Euro standard 6d-temp. "In this respect, there is no RDE limit for vehicles with earlier emission standards such as Euro 5 or Euro 6a-c that could be exceeded."
Ford also sees itself unjustly in the pillory: "Our vehicles and engines - including our advanced diesel technology - meet all applicable emission regulations," the company said. "We have no so-called 'prohibited defeat devices' in our vehicles." Nissan points out that it will comply with "the applicable emission regulations in all markets". A company spokeswoman said the company "fully supports" the emission standards and vehicle testing systems that have been introduced in recent years.
A total of 66 models use the calibration strategies described by the car manufacturers, which according to the most recent judgments of the ECJ are to be regarded as prohibited defeat devices. In almost 50 vehicle models, the emission control system is modified or deactivated when ambient temperatures are low, "a strategy that the ECJ has expressly classified as a prohibited defeat device".
The researchers are therefore calling for more far-reaching "corrective measures". With the new diesel judgments, the "market surveillance authorities of the EU member states and Great Britain now have a clear basis for taking action against excessive NOX emissions from prohibited defeat devices and for making systematic changes in testing and enforcement practice".
This article was first published by our colleagues at "Capital".