SMMT defends diesel at National Air Quality Conference

Mike Hawes, SMMT chief executive, suggests VW scandal is a one-off at event in Birmingham

SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes has defended the UK motor industry in the face of criticism following Volkswagen’s admission that it installed software in some diesel vehicles to manipulate emissions test results.

(L-R) IAQM's Dr Claire Holman, Emissions Analytics' Nick Molden, SMMT's Mike Hawes and HEAT's Yolla Hega all appeared at the Conference yesterday (October 1 2015)

(L-R) IAQM’s Dr Claire Holman, Emissions Analytics’ Nick Molden, SMMT’s Mike Hawes and HEAT’s Yolla Hega all appeared at the Conference yesterday (October 1 2015)

Speaking at the National Air Quality Conference 2015 in Birmingham yesterday (October 1), Mr Hawes said that “consumers are right to be concerned” following the news that 1.2 million Volkswagen diesel cars in the UK have been affected and 4,000 new VW cars have been removed from sale (see story).

But, he said: “We can’t throw stones at the entire emissions testing procedure because of one instance of cheating.”

He also told the conference — organised by in partnership with PTEG — that it “would be wrong to penalise all diesels. The latest diesel vehicles are the cleanest ever… effectively reducing nitrogen oxide levels by 92% compared with earlier generations…They make a significant contribution to climate change targets, an environmental challenge which cannot be ignored.”

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced last week that the Vehicle Certification Agency would be investigating emissions testing in the UK in order to “ensure that the issue is not industry-wide” (see story).

But Mr Hawes was bullish in his defence of the UK motor industry, rejecting any suggestion other carmakers are involved: “We must remember the actions of one company do not mean collusion. Implicating other brands or companies would be unfair and wrong.”

Mr Hawes — who became SMMT chief in 2013 after stints working in public affairs at Bentley Motors, Toyota and Volkswagen AG — went on state that “for the record, vehicle manufacturers cannot and do not” do the following:

  • Remove mirrors, seats, windscreen wipers — or indeed any other components
  • Disconnect the alternator
  • Tape over panel gaps
  • Use special oils and lubricants that are not in production vehicles
  • Fit special tyres or overinflate them
  • Alter wheel alignment
  • Use higher gears than in normal use.

Mr Hawes added: “We recognise the current regulations for testing are out of date… We want, for consumers and our own industry’s integrity, a new emissions test that embraces new technologies, and which is more representative of on the road conditions…”

A new EU testing procedure based on real world driving rather than laboratory tests is currently being discussed and could be introduced by 2017.

“We cannot allow this current scandal to detract from vital progress towards the implementation of these new tests,” said Mr Hawes.

Emissions Analytics

Also speaking during the session, chief executive of real-world car emissions testing company Emissions Analytics, Nick Molden, reiterated his belief that diesel vehicles are capable of both meeting and going “much lower” than EU standards for NOx and NO2.

He added: “But will the regulations actually force this to happen? Will this be supported by better government policy?”

Mr Molden suggested that the root cause of regulations not accounting for discrepancies between laboratory testing and real-world testing, as well as the recent Volkswagen emissions scandal, was a lack of good emissions data and analysis — for which he urged that there now needed to be much more.

He said: “In a way it is the deficit of good information that has led us to the problems that we face today.”

Still, after acquiring thousands of datasets from testing different cars, he said: “The real world has a lot to do to catch up with the regulated limit.”

Earlier, Defra’s Dr James Cooper gave an overview of the government’s draft UK air quality plan, which is currently the subject of a public consultation (see story).

However, clean air lawyer Alan Andrews, speaking shortly after, suggested that his organisation — ClientEarth — was not so far convinced by the draft plan and is likely to attempt to take Defra back to the Supreme Court over the issue.

Passenger transport

Dr Jon Lamonte speaking at the Conference yesterday (October 1)

Dr Jon Lamonte speaking at the Conference yesterday (October 1)

Conference partner PTEG (Passenger Transport Executive Group) hosted the second conference session, which kicked off with chief executive of Transport for Greater Manchester, Dr Jon Lamonte.

He explained that as well as representing Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands and West Yorkshire — Greater London too would soon be joining PTEG.

But, he voiced his concern about the “fragmented” system of transport bodies across the UK, as well as the fragmented approach to funding schemes.

Dr Lamonte said: “It doesn’t seem to join up to a coherent strategy.”

Local case studies

The final session of the day focused on case studies of localised work to tackle air quality and boost awareness, with speakers including York city council’s principle air quality officer Elizabeth Bates, Environment Agency PPC/RSR officer Chris Lowe and Global Action Plan’s Caroline Watson.

More details on the National Air Quality Conference including the full programme list of speakers can be viewed here.

The National Air Quality Awards 2015 also take place later this month in Bristol, with awards in six categories. More information is available at


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