VOLKSWAGEN owners around the world will be offered cash incentives in an attempt to head off multi-million pound legal actions over the emission-rigging scandal engulfing the firm.
Last night, the company sacked seven senior technicians, with more likely to follow, over the testing cover-up.Meanwhile, dramatic new evidence of how the motoring industry conspired with ministers to cover up cheating in diesel car testing can be revealed today.
A team of British scientists repeatedly warned the UK Government that emissions of a deadly pollutant from diesel cars far exceeded official safety levels.
The scientists measured emissions from tens of thousands of diesel engine cars as they drove past sensors on roads in tests carried out since 2011.
The studies, funded by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), showed that on average diesel cars emitted four times the legal limit of dangerous NOx gases.Their findings appear to have been ignored by successive governments which have continued to offer generous tax subsidies to encourage people to buy diesel cars, which now account for half of new cars sold in the UK.
The spotlight has fallen on diesel car emissions after Volkswagen, the world’s biggest car manufacturer, admitted that it had used a “defeat” device to beat the official tests and enable polluting cars to pass US regulations.
Problems at the scandal-hit company increased yesterday (Saturday) when Switzerland announced it was banning the sale of a number of VW models as well as Skoda and Seat diesels also made by the company.
The move is expected to affect 180,000 cars. Cars sold and already on the road will not be subject to the ban.
It came as a report out tomorrow by Transport & Environment, a campaign group which first raised the spectre of “defeat” devices used in tests, will show that the gap between the true fuel economy for cars and the claims made by manufacturers in testing has grown in the past five years and the car industry is using more and more sophisticated methods to cheat tests.
The scientific studies of roadside emissions were carried out by a team from King’s College London and paid for by Defra.
The studies showed that NOx emissions have not declined since 2006 despite increasingly stringent requirements from the European Union.
Dr David Carslaw, who led the research, said: “What our studies show is that when these vehicles are officially tested they pass the European emissions standards but when you test them on the road they on average are emitting four times more NOx pollutant.
“We expected to see really substantial reductions in NOx emissions but that has not happened. There is a huge gap between what the manufacturers report and what is actually happening.”
He added: “It has been known for some time and Defra are certainly aware that concentrations [of NOx] have not decreased.”
The studies, which measured emissions from more than 100,000 cars, show that Oxford Street, London’s busiest shopping thoroughfare, is the most heavily polluted road in the world. It is estimated that 9,500 people a year die from the effects of NO2 pollution in the UK alone.
Diesel cars emit about five to ten times more NOx gases - which include NO2 - than petrol cars.However, because diesel cars are more fuel efficient than petrol cars they emit less CO2, meaning since 2001 they have qualified for cheaper road tax.
Successive governments have deliberately made diesel cars more attractive and further subsidies, announced in this year’s budget, will be introduced next year although George Osborne, the Chancellor, will be under pressure to scrap them after the VW scandal.
Steve Gooding, director of the RAC Foundation, the motoring think tank, said: “Leaving aside the VW scandal, report after report has highlighted how what happens on the road can be a far cry from what’s recorded in the lab. Some say successive governments here and in Brussels have been too slow to grasp air quality issues in pursuit of CO2 reductions. But the events of the last two weeks have been an almighty wake-up call.
”Transport & Environment’s new report will claim that cheating by car manufacturers is not limited to diesel engines or to rigged air pollution tests.
“Cheating goes on for all vehicle tests,” a spokesman said last night. “We are only just scratching the surface of this. Our report will offer compelling evidence that fuel economy tests are also being manipulated by many of the big manufacturers. Without an independent regulator in Europe cheating companies won’t be caught.
”Suggestions of collusion between governments and the motoring industry have been bolstered by an allegation from a former transport minister that David Cameron agreed to delay imposing a new emissions limit after a personal request by Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, to protect her country’s motor industry.
Norman Baker, a former Liberal Democrat MP and transport minister in the Coalition, made the claims in a new book.
“Angela Merkel rang the Prime Minister and asked him effectively to defer the arrangements that had been carefully negotiated. He agreed to that, idiotically, and got something inconsequential in return,” said Mr Baker.
A VW spokesman said yesterday that the company still had no idea how many cars in Britain were affected by the scandal. Nor is it clear what recompense will be offered to VW owners in the UK who find themselves with cars that may be breaking emissions levels and prove difficult to sell on.
Motor industry experts have told The Telegraph that problems with VW date back to about 2006 when the company switched over to a new kind of diesel engine.
Peter de Nayer, a former research engineer with the AA, said VW’s EA189 engine had possibly caused emissions problems that meant the car could not pass tests without cheating.