Damian Carrington Environment editor
Wednesday 13 September 2017 19.00 BST
New “real world” emissions tests fail to prevent high levels of pollution from diesel cars during rush hour, according to new data.
Diesel vehicles are the main cause of the UK’s widespread levels of illegal air pollution, with the VW cheating scandal exposing the fact that virtually all diesel cars emitted far more toxic fumes than in official laboratory based tests. Since 1 September, new models must now be tested on real roads, but the new data shows even this does not prevent high levels of fumes in slow traffic, when pollution is at its worst for drivers and other road users.
Emissions Analytics, a respected testing firm, measured the emissions from two diesel cars on rush hour journeys into and out of London. In the most congested three-mile stretch of the evening rush hour, a VW Golf and Vauxhall Insignia both emitted far more nitrogen oxides (NOx) in their official real world tests – 42% and 118% more, respectively.
There is no suggestion that either of the cars have broken any regulations, as the “real driving emissions” (RDE) test allows the cars to be tested at different times of day, combines results from urban, rural and motorway driving and only applies to new models coming on to the market now.
Greenpeace, which commissioned the new research, says the results expose a new loophole in emissions tests. “The RDE tests should leave the auto industry no room to hide their cars’ real emissions,” said Paul Morozzo, from Greenpeace UK. “These new tests are not ‘real’ enough to ensure the most polluting cars are kept off our roads. That car companies are allowed to avoid rush hour traffic when testing in urban areas is a major flaw.”
“Instead of wasting more time and money hiding behind tests that still don’t reflect what’s happening in the real world, car companies should switch from diesel to electric and hybrid technology,” Morozzo said. “Ministers cannot rest on their laurels either – these tests do not solve the problem of air pollution, which makes a ban on new diesels long before 2040 even more crucial.”
Nick Molden, the CEO of Emissions Analytics, said: “The results show further improvements may be required for both the testing regime and for diesels to manage challenges like London’s rush hour. Other Emissions Analytics testing shows diesels can be cleaner in normal urban and motorway driving. However, the pace of change, or lack of, continues to threaten the future of diesel.” Sales of new diesel cars are plummeting, as is the value of second-hand diesels.
A spokesman for the Department of Transport said: “This government has led the way in Europe, pushing for on-road emissions tests, alongside a tough new laboratory test, to clean up air in our towns and cities. The introduction of new RDE tests this month is expected to significantly reduce average real world NOx emissions from new cars.”
Mike Hawes, chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said the new RDE tests analyse emissions in a wide range of driving conditions and any car failing to meet the standards would be barred from sale. “This will provide consumers with the reassurance that manufacturers are delivering on air quality,” he said. “Criticising this new, highly complex and robust test based on the results of a couple of vehicles indicates a failure to understand the timeline and legal and testing process.”
A spokeswoman for the Volkswagen Group said: “The Group embraces the forthcoming RDE standards and all its products will be fully compliant.”
The UK government announced a ban on diesel vehicles from 2040 as part of a new air pollution plan it was forced to produce after being defeated twice in the courts. However, the plan, released in July, shies away from charging diesels for entering polluted areas and was condemned as “woefully inadequate” by city leaders and “inexcusable” by doctors.
A UN human rights report, revealed this week by the Guardian, said: “The UK government continues to flout its duty to ensure adequate air quality and protect the rights to life and health of its citizens.”