French vehicle emissions fraud agency created

18 June 2020

18 June 2020

The French Government is setting up a market surveillance service to detect vehicle emissions fraud. Operating under the banner of the Surveillance Service for the Vehicle and Motor Market (SSMVM), it has been created in the wake of the Dieselgate scandal.

The SSMVM’s mission will be to check that vehicles sold in the French market comply with the technical requirements set by European and national regulators on health, safety and the environment.

100 tests a year

Attached to the Climate and Energy Efficiency Service of the Directorate-General for Energy and Climate, the SSMVM will be working with an initial budget of €5 million and will be expected to carry out nearly 100 tests a year.

The scope of these tests will include passenger vehicles, tractors, trailers and interchangeable towed machinery, alongside systems, components, separate technical units, parts and equipment intended for such vehicles. Two, three and four-wheelers will be included, as well as special warning lights for certain vehicles. The service will also assess non-road mobile machinery, from small portable equipment like chainsaws to railcars, and from inland waterway vessels to snowmobiles and generators.

Documentary checks, tests and trials are scheduled as part of an annual control plan. Additional checks may be carried out following complaints and any other information received. 

Penalties and prosecutions

Where non-compliance with strict emissions regulations are discovered, buisnesses may be subject to administrative measures and penalties. This could include warnings, withdrawals, product recalls, and suspension of market presence.

Penalties do get potentially more severe, working up to the destruction of products, administrative fines of up to €300,000 per non-compliant engine and €1 million per non-compliant vehicle. The SSMVM can also levy criminal sanctions, ranging from three years imprisonment to fines of €300,000 for non-road mobile machinery and €1 million for motor vehicles. Under certain circumstances, fines could reach 10% of annual revenues.

Dieselgate’s long shadow

Dieselgate brought the fraudulent use of ′defeat devices’ into the spotlight in 2015. Designed to reduce the polluting emissions of vehicles under test conditions, these devices caused a backlash that lead to government fines and consumers taking manufacturers to court around the world.

The EU also decided to strengthen its regulations to guarantee a transparent level of safety and protection for health and the environment. As of 1 September this year, each EU member state is required to introduce independent market surveillance on motor vehicles, as well as trailers, systems, components and separate technical units.

In 2016 the UK announced the creation of the Vehicle Market Surveillance Unit, which operates under the Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency. The most recent report from the unit saw it test the emissions of 28 vehicles in 2018. This included: diesel cars, petrol cars, light vans, trucks, public service vehicles and a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle.

Going green

The introduction of these regulatory agencies ties in with a wave of new green incentives, which aim to drive greater demand for electric and low-emission vehicles. The French government has recently backed trade-in bonuses that favour smaller cars. Emissions limits for internal combustion vehicles will be set at 137 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre on the WLTP test cycle.

An €8 billion plan was also announced at the end of May by French president Emmanuel Macron, in the hope of making France the top producer of clean vehicles in Europe. As part of this plan, €1 billion will go towards the increasing in the state bonus for consumers buying electric cars, which rose from €6,000 to €7,000 on 1 June for private buyers (and from €4,000 to €5,000 for fleet buyers).

The trade-in premium for older, less-efficient vehicles is set to double as well. Those who buy a new or used latest-generation petrol or diesel will be entitled to €3,000, while those buying full-electric models can claim a €5,000 grant.

With Dieselgate serving as a grim backdrop, France and other EU member states are hoping to make an automotive green recovery from COVID-19. In a carrot and stick situation, consumers are being offered incentives to buy less-polluting vehicles, while manufacturers are threatened with increasing penalties and sanctions.