More cars failing emissions test

20 January 2016 | Testing reveals dozens of vehicle models fail to meet pollution standards.

Too much hot air

Vehicle emissions are again in the spotlight after a UK test has shown that many manufacturers are struggling to produce cars that can meet modern standards.

Independent testing by CHOICE's sister organisation Which? has revealed that the market is flooded with cars that emit more than the legal limit of poisonous air pollutants.

Current testing doesn't reflect real-world conditions

Using a test process to better replicate real-world driving conditions, Which? found that 95% of the diesel vehicles tested emitted higher levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) than permitted by environmental standards. One vehicle, the 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, blew 15 times the legal limit.

Almost two thirds of petrol cars produced more carbon monoxide (CO) than allowed, with some models emitting more than four times the legal amount of the pollutant. Europe has had the same CO limit since 2006, suggesting that some manufacturers have been flaunting the rules for a decade.

Which? claims that their process provides a more accurate picture of car performance than the current official test. Previously, tests using the same method have exposed widespread overreach of manufacturers' fuel consumption claims.

Australia's vehicle market and regulatory landscape are both similar to the UK, making it likely that the scale of the problem is similar here.

Australia falling behind on emissions standards

Australia has been playing catch-up on vehicle emissions standards for years. In September 2015 the EU implemented the Euro 6 standard for new vehicles. These new rules more than halved the acceptable amount of poisonous NOx gases diesel cars may emit.

Meanwhile, the full requirements of the Euro 5 standards will not come into effect in Australia until November 2016. The Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions is currently looking at moving toward Euro 6, but even a draft implementation plan is not due until March 2017.

Inaction by the government in the wake of the Volkswagen Group emissions scandal led the Australian Automotive Association (AAA) to announce in December that it would begin on-road testing of Australian vehicles.

"The AAA is very concerned that the government currently has no capacity to test, audit, or enforce elements of its current vehicle emissions regulatory regime," chief executive Michael Bradley said. The AAA's testing will be based on the Real World Emissions test, set to be introduced in Europe later this year.

Australia set to become dumping ground for high-emitting vehicles

The longer Australia takes to catch up with European standards the more it runs the risk of becoming a dumping ground for vehicles that can't be sold in markets with more stringent rules.

"We're a long way from world's best standards for vehicle emissions and fuel efficiency, and unfortunately it's Australian motorists that pay the price," says Matt Levey, CHOICE director of campaigns and communications.

"For vehicle greenhouse emissions, our standards are non-existent, while for air pollution we've been too slow to follow other markets. This has been a problem under successive governments, the result of trying to appease local vehicle manufacturers. But with manufacturing leaving our shores, that excuse has now run out of gas."