In Brief

EU illegally relaxed emission laws for diesel cars, court rules

Judgment means European authorities can now stop Euro 6 diesel vehicles from entering their cities

The European Union’s move to relax diesel emission regulations two years ago has been ruled illegal - a verdict that could see carmakers being forced to produce “cleaner” vehicles. 

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) yesterday overturned an EU decision that allowed diesel cars to produce “excessively high” levels of nitrogen dioxide. The case was launched in response to “a complaint brought by the cities of Brussels, Madrid and Paris in an effort to reduce air pollution”, the Financial Times (FT) reports.

Having got the ruling they were hoping for, the city authorities can now stop Euro 6 diesel vehicles from driving on their streets, adds The Guardian.

The EU had set a limit of 80mg of nitrogen oxides (NOx) per km for Euro 6 cars when the engine class was first proposed, in 2007. But when real-world testing came into force in 2016, the commission relaxed those standards, allowing new vehicles to produce more than double the target. 

As EU Observer notes, the EU decided to introduce the real driving emissions (RDE) test in October 2015, a month after Volkswagen admitted using cheat devices to pass emission checks. 

However, the move allowed manufacturers to “miss the target significantly”, with NOx limits soaring to 168mg/km, the news site says. 

The latest ruling leaves carmakers facing some major production headaches. 

Car companies have already “spent billions” upgrading vehicles to comply with the EU’s new worldwide harmonised light vehicle test procedure (WLTP), introduced in September, notes the FT. The new testing regime is intended to provide more accurate range and emission figures for electric, hybrid, petrol and diesel models. 

It is unclear whether the EU factored in the relaxed emission limits when WLTP was introduced, but many manufacturers fear they may now need to make further amendments to their diesel models.

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