The European Commission knew in 2010 that carmakers were manipulating emissions values, according to a report on Spiegel Online, the website of German newsweekly Der Spiegel, which referred to internal documents.
The Dieselgate scandal only became public in September 2015 following investigations by the U.S. environmental authority CARB.
The Commission first looked more closely at the issue after noting that although emission regulations had been tightened, air quality in cities remained the same. The authorities appointed testing agencies which discovered that car emissions were higher than were shown in laboratory tests. A document from 2010 noted this discrepancy.
The Commission tasked its Joint Research Center with measuring emissions values on roads rather than in testing conditions. The investigators made use of a portable measuring unit, the Freeway Performance Measurement System, known as Pems. The JRC started testing in 2007 and in 2008 reported that nitrogen oxide emissions were much higher than those shown in lab tests. In 2008 the results were published in a trade publication and they were also submitted to the Commission.
Three years after this testing took place, an internal document dated October 8, 2010, referred to the discrepancy in diesel vehicle emissions between testing and road conditions as well known, and stated that this was clearly due to the "widespread use of certain reduction technologies in diesel vehicles."
Furthermore, according to the Spiegel Online report, in 2012 the Commission was informed by Schrader Electronics, a car supplier, which notified the E.U. executive body about the software manipulation, in a personal letter to the then Commissioner for Industry, Antonio Tajani.
In the following two years, letters show a conflict between Brussels politicians as environmental regulators called for further investigation. Karl Falkenberg, head of the directorate-general for the environment, comparable to a ministry, called on his counterpart responsible for companies and industry, Daniel Calleja Crespo, to investigate the legality of "certain practices which had been documented in detail by the JRC and others." Mr. Falkenberg referred to emissions reduction technologies which are switched off in lower temperatures or if the vehicle needs more power. He underlined that these were clearly against the law.
There are also indications that the German government may have known sooner. The documents reveal exchanges back and forth between the Commission and the German government, as well as a meeting in 2012 discussing the issue which representatives of the German government attended.
In May 2012 an E.U. official notified the relevant ministries in several countries in the E.U. including Germany’s environmental ministry, of a meeting between government and industry representatives and NGOs about emissions testing, according to Spiegel Online.
A spokesperson for the European Commission, when confronted with the revelations, said that the Commission had not known of the practices and had been as shocked by VW's revelations as everyone else, according to the Spiegel Online report.
The environment ministry wrote in a statement to Handelsblatt Global Edition that neither it nor any other institution had any knowledge or proof that carmakers were using cheat software in May 2012. The documents described by Spiegel Online showed that the European Commission's intention to investigate more closely were frustrated by European carmakers' opposition, ministry spokesman Stephan Gabriel Haufe wrote, adding that the German government had supported the intention.
The European Commission’s investigations into real-driving emissions pursued two goals, to measure cars' emissions and to prevent vehicles from being optimized in lab tests, and used mobile Pems technology, despite opposition from the car industry which preferred lab testing, Mr. Haufe wrote.
He stated that the European Commission had chosen this technology as a preventive measure rather than due to evidence of activities undertaken by carmakers and that the German government had supported this choice, and that neither had had indications of defeat devices or cheat software at the time. "As we now know, uncovering defeat devices requires extensive testing, of which the on road tests were just one part, albeit an important one."
He said the European Commission is currently working with member states to define a standardized test which would uncover such devices.
Allison Williams is deputy editor in chief of Handelsblatt Global Edition. To contact the author: [email protected]