Is India prepared to prevent manufacturing defects and frauds in vehicles that compromise their emissions performance on roads?

  • The current PUC norms are not only too lenient to fail a vehicle, they cannot test tiny particles and NOx from in-use vehicles. Lax norms and poor enforcement make the PUC programme very ineffective. This needs an overhaul.

  • Monitoring of emissions from diesel vehicles is particularly weak. This can lead to uncontrolled emissions of toxic particulates and nitrogen oxides.

  • The automobile industry must commit to portable emissions monitoring to check real driving emissions when Euro VI standards are enforced. The government must fix manufacturers’ responsibility for emissions performance of vehicles during their useful life on the road. Manufacturers must declare certified as well as on-road emission levels.

  • This is a serious public health issue in India where air pollution has emerged as the fifth largest killer and vehicles are responsible for very high exposures to toxic pollution in cities.

New Delhi, February 3, 2017: One of the biggest corporate frauds in the global automobile industry – the Volkswagen defeat device case -- and the mounting evidences from Europe that most new diesel cars are emitting much higher than their certification levels, have gone nearly unnoticed in India. Even though Volkswagen cars have been found to be erring, there is no official action; nor is there any attempt to ensure that other models do not emit more than their certification levels.

This exposes a serious weakness in our emissions regulations that compromise emissions performance of vehicles. This makes India extremely vulnerable as it is rapidly motorising and dieselising without a strong compliance framework. This month, even China has gone ahead to recall 2.0 litre Volkswagen diesel cars.

Without a robust system of emissions monitoring and compliance, the investments in emission control systems in vehicles to meet tighter standards can go waste and negate air pollution control efforts in our cities.

Centre for Science and Environment (CSE) would strongly urge for urgent steps to upgrade the current in-use emissions testing, prepare for real driving emissions testing with portable emissions monitoring systems for Euro VI vehicles and make vehicle manufacturers liable and accountable for emissions performance of the vehicles during their useful life on the road.

The current practice of pollution under control programme (PUC) is rudimentary and ineffective. It is not designed to address complex emissions control systems in new vehicles. This cannot screen inherent technical flaws and frauds for which manufacturers are responsible that compromise the emissions performance in the real world.

The key highlights of the CSE analysis

Very poor PUC compliance and ineffective tests
The PUC system, the only system to check emissions from on-road vehicles in India is extremely weak in terms of lax norms, poor enforcement and poor quality test procedures. New data from the Delhi Transport Department shows that failure rate is as dismal as 5 per cent - nearly all vehicles pass the test. There is no data, however, on how many vehicles show up for test.

The PUC norms for on-road vehicles are extremely lax for the older pre-Bharat Stage IV vehicles. While under PUC, petrol cars are tested for carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons along with lambda (that indicates the optimum condition needed for proper functioning of catalytic converters), diesel vehicles are tested only for smoke density. While all norms are lax, those for on-road diesel vehicles are particularly lenient -- smoke density norms are 50 HSU only for the Bharat Stage IV-compliant diesel vehicles. For pre-BS-IV vehicles, the norm is as lax as 65 HSU. In Singapore and Pakistan, this norm is 40 HSU; in Indonesia, Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia it is 50 HSU for all genre of vehicles.

This is a serious issue at a time when Delhi, which already has more than 614 PUC centres, is trying set up more. This investment can go waste without an effective system in place.

Serious concern over quality of checks in PUC centres
The Supreme Court has recently given directions to the EPCA to audit all the 614 PUC stations. There are serious concerns over quality and credibility of PUC tests across the cities. In fact, a detailed audit that was carried out by the Central Pollution Control Board in 2013 in 76 PUC centres exposed serious anomalies – non-compliance with the code of practice; unavailability of calibration certificate for testing instruments in several centres; poor condition of laboratory; leak test failure; and non-functioning analysers. This clearly brings out the ineffectiveness of the programme.

Smoke density test under PUC cannot check particulate emissions
The smoke test was introduced in the 60s to reduce the visibility problems due to diesel smoke. There is no real correlation between smoke density and particle emissions. Smoke is not a good surrogate for tiny particles. There can be a risk of misclassifying polluters – low smoke emissions can also mean high particulate emissions. Even in Europe, virtually no vehicle fails the smoke test. Other governments including China, Hong Kong, Singapore, the US, etc now conduct these tests on chassis dynamometer to simulate speed. This makes the emissions test more rigorous, China is further developing a nationwide I/M system for evaluating NOx emissions from in-use HDVs.

Tests are needed to prevent emissions frauds or poor emissions performance of advanced emissions control systems on roads – especially diesel vehicles
The PUC system is not even designed to test tiny particles and NOx on road – the key concerns from diesel vehicles. Volkswagen was caught cheating on NOx emissions. In fact, too much focus on reducing smoke can actually increase NOx emissions as a trade-off. But new generation diesel vehicles will come with advanced emissions control systems to reduce particulate and NOx. If these systems perform sub-optimally, there can be uncontrolled emissions.

The fact that India is totally unprepared to prevent emissions frauds and underperformance of emissions control systems on roads was proved a few years ago when the Tavera fraud case of General Motors was exposed. These models passed the certification tests with one set of engines that did not the match those actually sold in the market. But this incident did not lead to any major reform to establish in-use compliance norms and monitoring in India. The Indian government does not have the power to penalise manufacturers for non-compliance and violation. This has serious implications as the next level of Euro V and Euro VI standards will require advanced particulate traps and NOx control systems like SCR to cut toxic diesel emissions. If engineering deficiency reduces the effectiveness of these systems or if these are not properly operated like urea refilling in SCR system, it can lead to uncontrolled emissions and nullify pollution control measures in our cities.

India has already specified more advanced On Board Diagnostic Systems in post-2013 vehicles. This should be integrated with vehicle inspection programme for more effective monitoring
If a problem or malfunction is detected, the OBD II system illuminates a warning light on the vehicle instrument panel to alert the driver. This warning light will typically display the phrase "Check Engine" or "Service Engine Soon," and will often include an engine symbol. The OBD system stores important information about any detected malfunction so that a repair technician can accurately find and fix the problem. It is notified to monitor catalyst, fuel injection system, particulate trap, coolant temperature, EGR, fuel system, emission control systems, etc. Smog check inspections in USA for post-2000 model vehicles are now primarily based on an inspection of the OBD II system -- tailpipe testing is no longer required. It identifies emission-related components covered under warranty; eliminates unnecessary repairs; and gives information about area of malfunction or a specific component. This reduces cost of warranty repairs and ensures customer satisfaction; allows early detection of malfunctions etc. But this system will require strong surveillance and appropriate software to work effectively. In Europe, the OBD system has often failed to detect high emissions from diesel cars.

Euro VI emissions standards to bring new compliance regime: Ensure this works properly
For the first time, monitoring of real world emissions with portable monitoring system along with in-service compliance regulations will be implemented to keep an eye on real world emissions. Real driving emissions (RDE) testing will be included as an additional requirement for vehicle certification. Emissions measurements will be carried out with the help of Portable Emission Measurement System (PEMS) and onwards in-service conformity factor will be applied to ensure that emissions from vehicles remain within the stated margin. This can prevent emissions cheating and use of sub-standard emissions control or defeat devices as was done by Volkswagen.

However, adoption of more advanced on-board diagnostic systems has been delayed until 2023. Moreover, higher durability requirements in BSVI can ensure that emissions stay low throughout the useful life of the vehicle. The test procedures are to become more rigorous. World Harmonized Light-duty Vehicle Test Cycle (WLTC) will replace the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC), and a variety of test parameters will be adjusted to close loopholes and address shortcomings of the current procedures. Thus, ensuring that the emissions control equipment is functioning through the most productive lifetime is especially critical for long-lived and intensively-used diesel vehicles. The Volkswagen case demonstrates that poor emissions performance not only adds to public health risk but also increases business risk for the industry.

India needs strong compliance regulations to make manufacturers responsible for on-road emissions performance for a vehicle’s useful life on road
Consistent with the global best practices, India needs an independent authority to check emissions against standards; issue recall of vehicles by companies if they are found non-compliant; levy fines on defaulting companies; and withdraw approval of sale if vehicles do not conform with the stated emissions targets. An independent authority should monitor this process without being influenced by industry. Only such a system will make non-compliance with regulations more expensive for companies than compliance with regulations and ensure implementation. The Auto Fuel Policy committee has recommended an emissions warranty and recall programme and in-use compliance regulations. But this has not been implemented.

CSE’s review shows that currently, Indian certification agencies do not select vehicle samples for certification tests randomly and independently. In fact, certification agencies give prior notice to manufacturers about the approximate time during which samples will be collected from a given lot. This compromises independent and impartial testing. Legal procedures for the MoRTH to issue mandatory recalls or levy fines have not been established yet.

Moreover, there is no system post-sales (as in the US) to allow testing agencies to select any vehicle, anywhere, and at any time, without prior notice to the manufacturer. India urgently needs rules for the government and manufacturers to remove non-compliant vehicles.  A mandatory recall policy for non-compliant vehicles is needed to ensure that manufacturers design vehicles to comply with emission standards for the duration of their useful life.

In fact, China has taken steps to move in this direction. China has recently revised its programmes to allow the selection of vehicles at random without any prior notice. Furthermore, COP testing in China is now corroborated through inter-laboratory round-robin testing, which adds an additional level of scrutiny.

Need defeat device regulations
CSE investigations have shown that defeat devices are being sold openly in the global market. For instance, Adblue OBD2 Emulator that disables selective catalytic reducing (SCR) system needed to control NOx from diesel vehicles is being openly sold in the global market. People use this to avoid recurring cost of urea refill in SCRs. In countries like Brazil only 46 per cent of the diesel vehicles have working SCRs -- rest have been disabled. Thus, India needs defeat device regulations as those that exist in countries like the US.

Several European countries are taking action against diesel cars
Evidence from Europe and the US show that several clean diesel car models meeting the latest standards are struggling to keep their nitrogen oxide levels low and within the specified limit in the real world. As a result, several European countries are finding it difficult to meet the ambient air quality standards. In fact, the United Kingdom was dragged to the European Court of Justice for violating ambient NOx standards. This is leading to restraint measures on diesel cars in several European cities. Europe is bringing in massive reforms to make the new technologies work. These include -- Real Driving Emissions Test Procedures and Standards by 2017 with tight conformity factor; tighter test cycles; In Use Testing of Random Vehicles; and voluntary label system etc.

Oslo has temporarily banned diesel cars to combat pollution. London will not allow pre-Euro VI cars inside the ultra low emissions zone in central part of the city. In France, Euro VI diesel cars are not to be included in the new category 1 colour coding scheme that classifies vehicles according to how much they pollute. French government will “progressively” ban diesel vehicles. Paris will phase out pre-2011 diesel cars by the end of the decade. It has already rolled out colour-coded stickers for cars to curb pollution and cut public transport costs to curb smog. Madrid will ban polluting diesel cars from the city centre from 2020. Dutch registration and circulation taxes for diesel cars are close to prohibitive. This has kept the share of diesel cars in the Netherlands lower than the EU average. 

In Brazil, sales of diesel passenger cars and commercial vehicles below 1,000 kg are banned. Beijing has banned diesel cars as a pollution control measure. China has the lowest diesel car penetration at less than 1 per cent. China’s taxes do not differentiate between petrol and diesel fuel. Sri Lanka has imposed several times higher duties for diesel cars compared to petrol cars and has reduced diesel car sales.

The next steps

India will be in deep trouble if massive motorisation happens without strong compliance with emissions limits. This will enhance the public health risk.

  • Strengthen PUC norms and testing for older vehicles. Ensure 100 per cent compliance by linking annual insurance with PUC certificates.

  • Overhaul emissions tests for diesel vehicles to enable monitoring of particulate and NOx emissions.

  • Integrate OBD with the inspection and maintenance programme. Ensure its software is not manipulated.

  • Need immediate technical preparedness to implement Real Driving Emissions Test Procedures and Standards based on portable emissions monitoring system with a small margin for deterioration.

  • Ensure unbiased and independent type approval tests for vehicle certification by the test agencies.

  • Need defeat device regulations: Prevent use of defeat devices like SCR disablers that are being openly sold in the global market.

  • Industry should be mandated to declare actual certification emissions data, real world emissions data and allow free access.

This Briefing Note has been prepared for the Round Table on Reinventing In-use Emissions Compliance Regime, organised by CSE in New Delhi on February 3, 2017.

For more information and interviews: Vrinda Nagar, CSE Media Resource Centre, at 9654106253/