car manufacturing

UK reaches 17-year car-making high as the EU cracks down on emissions cheats

New figures reveal that 1.7 million cars were produced in Britain last year representing a 17 year high, but the European Commission (EC) has criticised countries in its membership that are still failing to take action over manufacturers who break emission regulations.

The EC issued guidance today on how EU members should be policing carmakers, a move EU officials said would be likely to lead to legal action against countries that fail to clamp down on cheating of diesel emissions regulations.

Thousands of UK motorists have already launched a joint lawsuit against Volkswagen (VW) in the wake of its emissions scandal which has already cost the car manufacturer billions. 

The EC is frustrated that member states, which are responsible for regulating carmakers, have not taken a tougher stance against the industry, despite discovering that many cars, even those not produced by VW, spew up to five times the legal pollution limit.

The Commission believes countries are pandering to the powerful automotive industry and in December began legal action against Germany, Britain and five other EU members.

National governments, however, have criticised EU law for being too vague, saying it allows carmakers to dial down emissions-control systems under certain circumstances, such as if they might damage a vehicle’s engine.

Officials have said the new guidance is an attempt to clarify how existing rules should be implemented.

“A large number of car manufacturers use strategies that increase emissions outside of the test cycle,” said EU Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska.

“This is illegal unless technically justified in exceptional cases, and the burden of proof lies with the carmaker. Cheating cannot be tolerated.”

While the 11-page guidance is not legally binding, it could form the basis for legal action against member states that do not crack down on excessive, health-harming vehicle emissions.

It includes a table outlining suspicious emissions behaviour in vehicle testing, such as higher emissions in hot engine starts than in cold, which it says should serve as a red flag for national authorities.

EU sources said the table should give national regulators an indication of whether they have been abiding by the EU executive’s definition of the rules.

In order to justify modulations of emissions controls, the guidance calls on car manufacturers to provide proof of a risk of irreparable engine damage and that the latest available emissions treatment technology has been used. It says emissions controls used to save on maintenance cost are not acceptable.

Meanwhile the UK’s automotive industry is booming, with official SMMT figures revealing that 1.7 million cars were produced last year - representing a rise of 8.5 per cent from 2015.

Demand from overseas has helped to drive this increase with more than 1.3 million cars destined for export to over 160 countries. The manufacture of premium brands has helped make the UK the second biggest producer of premium cars after Germany.

A car rolled off the production line approximately every 20 seconds and the industry now employs over 163,000 people.

“Our modern industrial strategy will make the UK one of the most competitive places in the world to grow a business and these figures show why the UK automotive sector has such a vital role to play as we build on our strengths and extend excellence into the future,” said Business Secretary Greg Clark.

“We are providing long-term investment and support, so that all our auto companies, and the vital supply chain it supports, can strive for even greater success in 2017.”

“Government is continuing to back the UK auto sector. That is why, on top of the £1bn government and industry has committed to research and development, a further £390m, announced at Autumn Statement, will be invested to develop and accelerate the transition to cleaner, connected and autonomous vehicles, strengthening the UK’s position as a leader in this vital sector.”

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