STRASBOURG -- Automakers won their fight for a diluted European Union plan to test the nitrogen oxide emissions of cars under real-driving conditions.
The plan today cleared the final hurdle in the European Parliament here, defying calls for more radical reform following Volkswagen's test-cheating scandal.
The parliament upheld a proposal championed by automakers and EU governments to let real-world NOx emissions exceed permissible discharges by as much as 110 percent between September 2017 and January 2020 and by up to 50 percent thereafter.
A veto recommendation by the parliament's environment committee, which argued the measure is too soft on the auto industry, failed to gather the minimum 376 votes needed today. The veto motion was supported by 317 members out of a total 751.
The European Commission, the EU executive, is trying to close the gap between laboratory testing of new vehicles and real world emissions. Industry association ACEA said the Commission's earlier reform plans were too challenging for current diesel models and could threaten the technology as a whole, jeopardizing jobs across the region.
ACEA welcomed the watered-down rules, which it said will still be tough to meet and will make Europe the only region in the world to adopt real-world testing of car emissions.
"This regulation will be a major challenge for the industry, with new and more stringent testing standards that will be extremely difficult to reach in a short space of time" Erik Jonnaert, ACEA secretary general, said in a statement. "However automobile manufacturers welcome the much-needed clarity, and are eager to move forward by implementing the new testing conditions," he said.
Euro 6 weakened
Opponents of the diluted plan are angry that it will allow real driving emissions of NOx to be as high as 168 milligrams a kilometer between September 2017 and January 2020.
Brussels-based green lobby group Transport and Environment said the agreement will allow "dirty diesels" to be driven on Europe's roads for years to come.
The "effective" new Euro 6 limit of 168mg/km is closer to the EU's previous Euro 5 standard of 180mg/km than it is to the current Euro 6 limit of 80mg/km, the group said in a statement.
The parliament's legal-affairs committee highlighted the reservations on Monday by endorsing the environment committee's veto recommendation, saying the overshoot margins amount to a "de-facto blanket derogation" from the EU's NOx limits.
To help win over parliament members, European Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska vowed to review the 50 percent overshoot ceiling and to move to enforce the legal cap no later than 2023.
EU governments on Oct. 28 rejected a tougher proposal from Bienkowska because of concerns about extra costs for carmakers. Bienkowska's original plan would have allowed a maximum 60 percent overshoot of the EU NOx limit for two years from September 2017 and enforced the legal cap as of September 2019.
Volkswagen's admission in September that it manipulated engine management software to cheat laboratory tests created a political storm in the EU where around half of vehicles are diesel. Some 8.5 million of the 11 million rigged VW Group diesel cars sold worldwide are on roads in Europe.
Diesel is particularly associated with emissions of nitrogen oxide linked to lung disease and premature deaths.
Bloomberg, Reuters and Automotive News Europe contributed to this report