SIAM passes the buck

Indian automakers are at it again: blaming vehicle owners for emissions

Published: Sunday 31 December 2000

The Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers ( siam ) organised a meeting to convince policy makers of the need for an inspection and maintenance ( i&m ) system. But without accepting a warranty on its own emissions this amounts to saying that high emissions from poorly maintained vehicles are responsible for air pollution. This is clearly an effort to make consumers pay for manufacturing defects.

Manufacturers are as much responsible for vehicular emissions as customers. Even new vehicles pollute heavily. Surveys conducted in Delhi in 1998 have shown that as much as 40 per cent of the new cars on road had failed the pollution under control ( puc ) test. In Mumbai brand new taxis failed the test. There is no way available to test if emission control systems like the catalytic converters are working. Roadside surveys conducted by the California Air Resources Board showed high emission levels due to malfunctioning of emissions control systems.

Several countries now have emission warranty and recall programmes. In the us and Sweden, this is part of the pollution control programmes to reveal technical malfunction in emission control systems. If properly maintained vehicles fail to meet the emission standards, it points to technical malfunction, in which case manufacturers are asked to recall the entire batch, repair it, and return it to the consumers. About two million vehicles are recalled every year in the us on this account, including a wide range of dream car models from Ford Fiesta and Honda Civic 1500 to Audi 100 and Opel Vectra.

Any blueprint on i&m programmes, like the one siam is so keen to develop in India, must first establish manufacturers' responsibility. It must also acknowledge that any i&m programme targeting only the tailpipes will not help clear the air. The us , with very sophisticated i&m programmes, is seriously reviewing and modifying strategy, considering it more effective to isolate the worst polluters on road to get the maximum benefit. It has been proved conclusively that only a small number of vehicles contribute a major proportion of the air pollution load. Even siam acknowledges that only 15 per cent of vehicles emit more than 50 per cent of the total air pollution load.

Does it then make sense for the Indian government to spread resources thin by checking all the vehicles just to isolate 15 per cent of them? It will be much cheaper to isolate them through visual inspection on road and weeding out the visibly smoking vehicles. It is ironic that siam should talk about i&m without considering the need for tighter exhaust emission norms for on-road emission tests. In India emission norms have not been revised since 1990 and are applied uniformly to all vehicles, be they pre-1990 make or Euro ii compliant. In countries such as the us , emission standards are set according to the age and the weight of vehicles. But who will discipline our manufacturers

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