In the aftermath of the Volkswagen emissions scandal we launched inquiries into VW’s conduct and the vehicle type-approval system. Our inquiries took place prior to the referendum on UK membership of the European Union. We do not believe there is any prospect of the UK removing itself from the international automotive regulatory system as a result of the vote to leave the EU. Some of the conclusions and recommendations in this report require the Government to play an influential part in negotiations on vehicle standards and the process for type approval at an EU and global level, while it remains an EU member and after Brexit.
We found much of VW’s evidence to be not credible and often an exercise in damage limitation. VW initially apologised for its conduct only to then deny that it had done anything wrong. The company has acted with a cynical disregard for emissions limits which exist solely to protect human health. VW’s conduct has severely undermined consumer confidence in vehicle standards. It has not only brought its own integrity into disrepute but also that of the rest of the auto sector.
VW ruled out compensating owners of affected vehicles in Europe but is providing payments to US customers. We believe that to be deeply unfair. We took evidence on the impact of VW’s conduct on consumers and what rights those consumers might have to seek redress. We do not accept Volkswagen’s justification of its policy on payments and have called upon regulators to ensure that owners are not out of pocket in any way as a result of Volkswagen’s technical solution.
We are concerned by the Department for Transport’s ambivalence towards assessing the legality of Volkswagen’s use of defeat device software despite its condemnation of Volkswagen’s actions. In particular, the Department has been far too slow to assess the applicability of its powers to prosecute VW. We are disappointed that regulators have shown little interest in establishing whether VW has broken any laws and we have called upon the VCA to ascertain whether type approval for VW Group vehicles was contingent on the use of defeat device software which is at the question at the heart of this dispute. We have called for the European prohibition on defeat devices to be made stronger. The current regulation prohibiting defeat devices has led to an unacceptable dispute over the legality of VW’s actions in Europe as well as the emissions control strategies of a wide-range of other manufacturers. More clearly defined guidance for approval authorities is needed on how to evaluate emissions control strategies and a consistent method to approve or reject claims for exemptions is needed.
Our examination of the wider vehicle type-approval system revealed that a great deal of work must be done to make it fit for purpose. Stronger independence and many more checks and balances are required to restore confidence and competence. Regulators and motor manufacturers have recognised this fact but we have identified a number of additional improvements that are needed urgently. We are concerned by the overlap of so many roles in vehicle testing and certification businesses. A clear separation of functions for designated technical services is required to eliminate any possibility of conflicts of interest. Most importantly the motor industry requires a robust regulator and the VCA must make scrutinising manufacturers and their engineering practices its first priority given the recent revelations that manufacturers misled regulators or exploited loopholes in regulations on a substantial scale. We welcomed the Government’s most recent commitment to conducting in-service surveillance. Future in-service surveillance would be improved by combining it with a commitment to make its results and underpinning data publicly available for scrutiny. The VCA must make it easier for stakeholders to bring questionable practices to its attention so that it can investigate further.
New emissions testing requirements are being introduced to bring a ‘real world driving’ aspect to measuring emissions. Those requirements have resulted in official emissions limits to rise for the first time but in practice the measures should result in real-world emissions to fall. We were disappointed that the Department for Transport did not strive for stricter emissions limits given scientific evidence that shows that dangerous pollutants could have been cut much faster. We have called on the Department to reduce emissions limits down to their previous official level as soon as possible.
We welcome the Department’s efforts to implement the Worldwide Light-vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP). We recognise that global test and certification standards bring savings to vehicle design and development which should in theory reduce prices for consumers. We believe further improvements could be made and have recommended that the Department assess the viability of introducing a real-world element to CO2 testing. The transition to WLTP will have a number of consequences which must be addressed carefully if they are not to lead to confusion amongst consumers. In particular the Department for Transport and HM Treasury need to examine the impact that the introduction of the WLTP will have on cars’ CO2 emissions and the related Vehicle Excise Duty bands. We have made recommendations that the Government provide motorists with the necessary information and to ensure that motorists are not financially penalised as a result of an improved testing and certification regime.
12 July 2016