When people look back at this moment in automotive history, they'll almost certainly see it as the time when the industry began transitioning to electric and autonomous cars. But there's another change afoot, one triggered by years of deception and falsely advertised products manufactured by one of the world's largest automakers.
The Volkswagen Dieselgate scandal took most people by surprise, and it's led consumers and regulators to look at automobiles more skeptically than they had before the news broke last September. That's not only true in the U.S., but also in Europe, where tests have revealed that few, if any, diesels on the road in the United Kingdom meet emissions guidelnes.
Like the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.K.'s Department for Transport has been busy conducting emissions tests on diesel vehicles. While those tests may have initially been limited to cars manufactured by VW, Audi, and other Volkswagen group brands, they were recently extended to diesels from other manufacturers.
All told, the DfT has put 37 models through real-world road tests. Unfortunately, the results have been vastly different from those gathered in controlled lab tests, like the kind that Volkswagen cars were designed to cheat on.
How different were the results? On average, road-tested vehicles emitted five times the legal limit of nitrogen oxide, with some pumping out as much as 12 times the maximum allowed. None passed the DfT's tests.
The vehicles have come from a wide range of automakers like Mercedes-Benz, Jaguar Land Rover, and Ford. Together, the 37 models tested represent roughly 50 percent of all diesels sold in the U.K. between 2010 and 2015.
Good news, bad news
The good news is, the DfT has found no evidence of any illegal defeat devices like those found on 11 million Volkswagen vehicles worldwide.
Also, none of the models tested were technically in violation of U.K. law, since emissions regulations mandate that vehicles must pass lab tests, not road tests.
The bad news--at least for automakers--is that the U.K. government is in the process of implementing new, real-world emissions tests for new cars. Those tests are expected to roll out next year.
At first, automakers will be given some leeway, with vehicles allowed to emit roughly twice the level of pollutants on the road as in the lab. By 2020, however, standards for both lab and road tests will be the same.
Don't be surprised if the EPA institutes similar testing procedures here in the U.S. very soon.