Europe’s Foul Plan on ‘Clean Diesel’

The raid on Re­nault fo­cuses at­ten­tion on EU moves to re­lax stan­dards on ni­tro­gen ox­ides

Bloomberg Businessweek (Asia) - - BLOOMBERG VIEW -

French in­ves­ti­ga­tors have raided of­fices of Re­nault, in­clud­ing those in­volved in reg­u­la­tory cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and en­gine con­trol sys­tems. Test­ing by a watch­dog group had al­ready shown that the com­pany’s cars were emit­ting as much as 25 times the lev­els of ni­tro­gen ox­ides al­lowed by the Euro­pean Union. Ni­tro­gen ox­ides, com­mon in diesel ex­haust, are car­cino­genic and a main com­po­nent of smog. They also con­trib­ute to cli­mate change, al­beit not as much as the car­bon diox­ide from gaso­line en­gines. More than half of new cars sold in Europe are diesels.

Spec­u­la­tion is wide­spread that the Re­nault raid is meant to find ev­i­dence of a “de­feat de­vice” such as that used by Volk­swa­gen to game U.S. emis­sions test­ing. De­vice or not, if it turns out Re­nault’s cars are spew­ing more emis­sions than were mea­sured by Europe’s eas­ily out­ma­neu­vered test­ing lab sys­tem, they need to be taken off the road. Un­for­tu­nately, Europe seems in­tent on keep­ing them there.

Largely at the be­hest of Ger­many, which has the world’s fourth-largest auto in­dus­try, the Euro­pean Par­lia­ment has been mov­ing to wa­ter down NOx stan­dards se­verely. Un­der a pro­posed plan, cars would be able to ex­ceed fu­ture NOx lim­its in on-road test­ing by as much as 110 per­cent un­til Jan­uary 2020, and by 50 per­cent there­after. A vote on the di­luted stan­dards has been de­layed un­til early Fe­bru­ary, af­ter the body’s en­vi­ron­men­tal com­mit­tee over­whelm­ingly rec­om­mended re­ject­ing them. This will give man­u­fac­tur­ers more time to make their case.

A Re­nault scan­dal seems un­likely to change this political pic­ture, in part be­cause the French govern­ment owns 20 per­cent of the com­pany. But even if the EU wants to cling to its dream of “clean diesel,” Euro­pean coun­tries and cities shouldn’t. The Ger­man govern­ment, in par­tic­u­lar, should re­think its de­ci­sion to re­ject a pro­posal to raise taxes on diesel cars. Many Euro­pean cities have their own clean-air laws that could be ap­plied to bus and taxi fleets or to keep­ing pol­lut­ing cars out of crowded ur­ban cen­ters, as Paris has pledged

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