EU probes automakers over emission systems

September 18, 2018 - 2:32 am

BRUSSELS (AP) — European Union regulators have opened an in-depth investigation into whether automakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen colluded to limit the development and roll-out of car emission control systems.

The EU Commission said Tuesday that it had received information that BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, and VW units Audi and Porsche held meetings to discuss clean technologies aimed at limiting car exhaust emissions.

The probe focuses on whether the automakers agreed not to compete against each other in developing and introducing technology to restrict pollution from gasoline and diesel passenger cars.

"If proven, this collusion may have denied consumers the opportunity to buy less polluting cars, despite the technology being available to the manufacturers," said EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager.

The Commission said its probe was focused on diesel emission control systems involving the injection of urea solution into exhaust to remove harmful nitrogen oxides. The probe follows a report in Der Spiegel magazine last year that the automakers had agreed to limit the size of the tanks holding the urea solution.

The Commission said, however, there was no evidence the companies had colluded to develop so-called defeat devices — computer software that illegally turns off emissions controls. Volkswagen in 2015 admitted using such devices and has set aside 27.4 billion euros ($32 billion) for fines, settlements, recalls and buybacks. Most of the rigged Volkswagen cars did not use the urea system but relied on another technology that the company has since abandoned.

After the Volkswagen scandal broke, renewed scrutiny of diesel emissions showed that cars from other automakers also showed higher diesel emissions in everyday driving than during testing, thanks in part to regulatory loopholes that let automakers turn down the emissions controls to avoid engine damage under certain conditions. The EU subsequently tightened its testing procedures to reflect real-world driving conditions for cars being approved for sale now. Environmental groups are pushing in court actions to ban older diesel cars in German cities with high pollution levels.

The Commission probe also is looking at possible collusion over particulate filters for cars with gasoline engines.

The Commission said that it did not see a need to look into other areas of cooperation among the so-called "Circle of Five" automakers such as quality and safety testing, the speed at which convertible roofs could open and at which cruise control would work. It said anti-trust rules leave room for technical cooperation aimed at improving product quality.

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McHugh reported from Frankfurt, Germany.