After diesel scandal, carmakers face scrutiny

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After diesel scandal, carmakers face scrutiny

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The Mercedes-Benz E220D, left, and Renault Samsung Motors’ SM6 diesel model were both released after passing a toughened certification process by the Ministry of Environment. [MERCEDES-BENZ, RENAULT SAMSUNG MOTORS]

Manufacturers of diesel cars are encountering delays in releasing new models, as the Ministry of Environment’s inspection of gauges such as emissions levels and fuel efficiency has tightened since last year’s emissions rigging scandal.

“Earlier this year, we had to submit 800 documents in order to have a midsize diesel car certified [for sale],” said a manager in charge of vehicle certification at an import car company. “We receive due dates for release from headquarters, but it’s hard to keep on schedule because of the tough certification process.”

The stricter inspections are a result of the so-called Dieselgate scandal. Last September, Volkswagen Korea was found to have cheated when submitting test reports for certification of its vehicles, raising questions about the Ministry of Environment’s weak inspections of imported cars prior to their release.

“Since Dieselgate, we’ve been confirming papers at least twice, including documents that in the past used to only be checked briefly,” a Ministry of Environment official said.

The lengthier process is causing problems for both domestic and foreign car companies, notably German automakers such as Mercedes-Benz, BMW and Audi that have diesel cars as their main product.

“In the import car industry, the practice is causing delays in the release of new diesel models,” said Yoon Dae-sung, executive managing director of the Korea Automobile Importers and Distributors Association.

Inspections of new cars are conducted by the Transportation Pollution Research Center at the National Institute of Environmental Research, an agency affiliated with the Ministry of Environment. The group began tightening their inspections at the end of last year.

The first change was increasing the number of documents required from the automaker.

“The number of documents varies from at least a few hundred to sometimes a few thousand,” said another certification manager at an import car company. “The research center frequently asks for more data, citing ‘insufficient materials.’”

Inspections of car models also intensified. Whereas in the past, certification was frequently granted after a simple document check, the research center now conducts more tests on actual cars to see if the submitted data is accurate.

Any discrepancies can result in a direct phone call to the company’s certification manager.

“As inspections are particularly sensitive when it comes to emissions and fuel efficiency, we sometimes write in a lower mileage than the actual one, just to make sure we pass the process,” said another manager working in certification for an import car company.

With the process involving more documents and tests, the inspection period can sometimes surpass three months. Before last year’s controversy, it used to take from a week to a month.

For instance, Volvo’s XC90 SUV model, unveiled last March, couldn’t go on sale for customers until last month, as the vehicle didn’t receive certification until May.

Some companies that submitted models for certification last year are still waiting for results. Last October, Fiat Chrysler submitted its Jeep Cherokee diesel model for certification, but the inspection process is still ongoing due to “insufficient materials.”

A Hyundai Motor spokesperson said that its diesel-powered Genesis G80 model was planned for release early next year, “but due to the enforced certification standards, there is a high possibility that the release will be postponed to later.”

During the second quarter last year, 81 imported diesel cars passed the process for certification. For this year’s second quarter, the number dropped to 25, and no cars passed the inspection process in June.

On top of that, the Ministry of Environment announced last Thursday that it would conduct re-examinations of imported diesel models that received certification in the past.

The re-examination will be done by comparing documents submitted in the past by import car companies with new documents received directly from the manufacturer’s headquarters, according to a Ministry of Environment official.


BY KIM KI-WHAN [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]
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