PARIS -- France has created a new transport inspection agency to help detect emissions fraud, following an EU directive issued in the wake of Volkswagen Group's diesel scandal.
The Surveillance Service for the Vehicle and Motor Market, or SSMVM, will initially have a budget of 5 million euros ($5.5 million) and expects to perform 100 tests a year. It will be overseen by the climate and energy department.
Violators would be subject to progressively harsher penalties, starting with a warning and ranging to market recall and fines of 300,000 euros for each nonconforming engine and 1 million euros per nonconforming car.
Criminal prosecution is also a possibility, the French government said. In certain circumstances, fines could reach 10 percent of annual sales, the government said.
As part of the EU’s response to 2015 revelations that VW Group had been using a so-called “defeat device,” software installed to beat emissions tests, it is revamping the rules for type approval to give the European Commission increased powers of scrutiny over manufacturers and test agencies. Prior to the new directive, type approvals were the responsibility of national authorities.
Among the requirements, which go into effect on Sept. 1, is that each member state must ensure that it has a “market surveillance authority” to carry out independent testing of vehicles that are approved for market.
The UK in 2016 established a similar agency, the Vehicle Market Surveillance Unit. In 2018, the most current year available, the unit carried out tests on 28 vehicle models.
In Italy, an existing branch of the national transportation agency performs the oversight function.
The new French agency will not carry out type approval itself but will inspect documents, carry out its own tests and respond to complaints. In addition to passenger car emissions, it will be responsible for enforcing regulations on safety for all motor vehicles, engines and components, as well as trailers and off-road vehicles.
It will produce a public report each year on its activities, the government said.
French automakers have not recently been the subject of sanctions or fines, but Renault and PSA Group, as well as Fiat Chrysler Automobiles, have faced accusations of consumer fraud in France after independent testing found a discrepancy in real world emissions compared with lab test results.
That gap is the reason the EU has moved toward type approval that more closely matches real world driving conditions, with the Worldwide harmonized Light vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP) and Real Driving Emissions (RDE) procedures.