India Riles Carmakers by Skipping a Step in Emissions Rules

  • Regulator sets simultaneous 2020 deadline for 2 pollutants
  • Automakers contend inadequate testing poses risk to safety

India’s road transport ministry said it will impose tighter vehicle emissions rules four years early, skipping a transitional step offered in other countries to combat air worsening pollution.

New cars will have to meet Bharat Stage 6 regulations, equivalent to the European Union’s Euro 6 emissions norms, by April 2020, and the government is making the “bold decision” to eliminate an intermediary stage called BS-5 after determining that fuel conforming to the stricter standards will be available by then, the ministry said in a statement. BS-5 rules called for an 80 percent cut in particulate matter from current exhaust emission standards, while BS-6 sets out a 68 percent reduction in nitrous oxide gases.

The announcement is the latest step taken by India’s government and courts to fight urban smog after New Delhi and nine other Indian cities landed on a World Health Organization list of the world’s 15 most polluted municipalities, with the capital topping the ranking. The country’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a temporary ban on registrations of large diesel cars in New Delhi. Executives at automakers, already reeling from that decision, said the accelerated emissions timetable poses a risk due to hasty implementation.

“The new standards should have a bigger impact on India’s domestic players,” Koji Endo, Tokyo-based analyst at Advanced Research Japan. “But even for the foreign brands, the costs will go up after adding devices to meet the new rules. Demand for cheaper cars may be damaged if they pass the cost pressure to consumers, because Indian consumers are very price-sensitive.”

Toyota Motor Corp. is looking at the government’s decision and will continue to improve the environmental performance of its cars, as air pollution is a growing concern that requires a “comprehensive approach going forward,” the Japanese manufacturer said in an e-mailed response to questions.

India’s vehicle-emissions rules are based on EU regulations in similar steps. Cars currently sold in the country are subject to so-called BS-4 standards, which were rolled out in 2010 and are being phased in through 2017. Authorities two years ago considered an April 2024 deadline for autos to meet BS-6 regulations, and a draft from the ministry late last year suggested a 2021 date.

“We need to have some certainty on whether we’ll be able to sell our cars,” said Pawan Goenka, executive director at Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd., India’s biggest sport utility vehicle maker. “If we invest all this money in developing vehicles that meet these norms, and after meeting these norms, they’re banned, it’s pointless. I would like to see some clarity, and a framework would help me decide on investments.”

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd., the largest car manufacturer in the country, also criticized the ministry’s plan. While shifting to BS-6 will be relatively easy for gasoline models, meeting the norms with diesel engines will be difficult, Chairman R.C. Bhargava said.

“Nobody in the world has done it,” Bhargava said in a telephone interview from New Delhi. “We need time to adequately test the technology, as it needs to be customized for each car. If cars start catching fire, who’ll be responsible?”

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