Renault denies cheating on emissions

But the French carmaker admits a problem of differences between test and real road conditions

PARIS • Renault announced that it was recalling 15,000 vehicles to check their engines, the minister in charge of transport said after the French carmaker pledged action to cut harmful emissions.

Renault "has committed to recalling a certain number of vehicles, 15,000 vehicles, to check them and adjust them correctly so that the filtration system works" in all temperatures, Ecology Minister Segolene Royal said on RTL radio.

"New cars must meet the norms," she said, adding that the adjustment could be quickly done. "To correctly adjust an engine takes half a day."

Renault promised on Monday to come up with a "technical plan" over the coming weeks to bring down harmful emissions from its vehicles after a government- appointed commission said its diesel cars failed pollution tests.

The commission, set up in the wake of the scandal engulfing Germany's Volkswagen, tested vehicles from eight foreign and French brands, finding carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions from Renault cars to be too high, as well as those in some non-French models.

Renault sales director Thierry Koskas insisted the company was not cheating, but acknowledged a problem had emerged between test and real road conditions.

"In test conditions, we respect emissions norms," he said, presenting the group's 2015 results.

"But when we are no longer in test conditions, there is indeed a difference between real conditions and control conditions, that is a fact," he said.

Here are some questions raised about the whole sector:

Has Renault been cheating over its cars' emissions tests?

Both the company and French government deny this.

Unlike VW which was forced to admit in September last year that it had fitted 11 million diesel engines worldwide with devices aimed at cheating emissions tests, Renault did not equip its cars with software capable of detecting test conditions in order to reduce the polluting emissions.

However, some Renault diesel cars exceed the norms on polluting gas emissions such as nitrogen oxide, carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide when tested in real driving conditions, according to Ms Royal. Some foreign brands also failed the test, she said, but declined to name them.

Renault says its cars have undergone European laboratory testing and conform with the norms.

How is it possible to meet laboratory testing standards but to emit more pollution once on the road?

Emissions tests, which have the benefit of being the same for everyone, are carried out in conditions that do not fully reflect a car's daily usage.

They maintain constant engine temperatures, only use gradual acceleration and are carried out without switching on energy- intensive electrical accessories.

The current NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) norm - based on 1970s standards - was criticised during the Volkswagen affair for being obsolete. New norms, called WLTP (Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure), which reflect much more closely normal daily driving conditions, are under discussion at the European Union level and are expected to be adopted by next year.

What is Renault doing differently from its rival, France's No. 1 carmaker Peugeot Citroen, which seems to be in the clear?

Renault and Peugeot Citroen have gone down different technological roads to meet strict Euro 6 emissions norms, in force since 2014.

Renault currently uses a technology called a NOx absorber, or NOx trap, which captures nitrogen dioxide and then burns it. The system is cheaper and simpler than a rival system called selective catalytic reduction (SCR), used by Peugeot and Citroen, but also less efficient in normal daily car use.

Renault, which already uses SCR for its trucks and vans, is to equip passenger cars with the technology over the medium term.

What are the consequences for Renault, its shareholders and car owners?

The controversy could crimp the positive momentum the company had last year, when sales increased by 3.3 per cent.

"We don't think that it will affect our image," said Mr Koskas.

But the company's shares have plummeted 15 per cent in a week as investors remain jittery so long as the cost to Volkswagen of its major cheating of pollution controls remains unclear.

For owners of Renault vehicles, the company has promised to unveil in the coming weeks a technical solution to bring actual emissions to permitted levels.

It also disclosed that 15,800 diesel versions of its Captur mini-SUV had already been recalled to correct a "calibration error" that led them to spew more pollutants than allowed.

Are Renault vehicles in Singapore affected by the issue?

Renault agent Wearnes Automotive says none of the models here are affected.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 23, 2016, with the headline 'Renault denies cheating on emissions'. Print Edition | Subscribe