The AIR Alliance Q&A

How can the data in the AIR Index help the automotive industry?

There is a massive lack of trust and now, overlaid over the top of that, is the onset of a recession. Using trustworthy, independent data gives the confidence to go and buy the right thing. With this data you can have confidence you can make informed decisions about doing the best thing for the environment. At this point you will be motivated to buy with confidence, and that is good for the industry.

What this isn’t about is telling people that they have to buy only expensive electric vehicles. There is a range of different technologies at different price points that can fulfil what you need as a car or van owner.

Who would most benefit from the AIR Index?

Firstly, cities that have to choose which vehicles to restrict and which vehicles to not in order to achieve air quality, will benefit. Secondly, governments that set the broader policy – particularly in relation to climate change – in line with the reality of the CO2 that comes out of the tailpipe. Thirdly, buyers, either individuals, who make their own informed judgements, and fleets who set fleet renewal policies.

How can the AIR Index ultimately lead to the adoption of cleaner cars and vans?

Cities can use this information to set appropriate access restrictions, and that immediately means you are incentivising people to make the switch to cleaner vehicles. Interestingly, there is also an opportunity around retrofits. You may have one of the early, dirty Euro 6s, but that car could easily still be worth £15k or maybe more, so it’s actually worth spending the money to get it retro-fitted so you can hang on to your car rather than replacing it. It means you can carry on going into the city. Obviously, individuals and fleets will make decisions based on the data, while central government route can use it to form its taxation policies such as VED.

Why is the data in the AIR Index different from the RDE official tests?

It is quite like the RDE official test, but it covers pre-RDE vehicles. The problem here is not RDE vehicles, but pre-RDE, so you have the Euro5 and all the older ones, but also from 2013 through to 2018 you have five years of pre-RDE Euro 6 vehicles. People have been misled, on the premise that Euro 6 is good, but they are not all clean. There are millions of pre-RDE, dirty Euro 6s out there, so what the AIR Index is, is effectively, a streamlined version of RDE for pre-RDE vehicles. In a very cost-efficient way, we re-classify all these older vehicles, so we know the ones that are good, and those that are bad.

We use the same equipment and a lot of the same test protocol as RDE, but we just simplified it through the mechanism of the CEN Workshop Agreement CWA 17379 which was initiated in 2017 and resulted in a wide range of vehicles being tested. We took the essential elements of RDE, put a pre-RDE spin on it in order to have a usable metric to reclassify that back catalogue.

How is the test data in the AIR Index researched?

CWA 17379 is now a documented public domain protocol that was produced through an open workshop process with a wide range of experts’ input, not least from the industry, and manufacturers but also cities, academics and even the European authorities. That standard is not something we just dreamt up ourselves, this was a consciously open process. It is a public, documented standard that has a legal framework to it and that means that if a city wanted to adopt it for example, it could do without fear of legal challenge

What is the of the mission of the AIR Alliance?

It is to solve the problems of air quality and climate change-related emissions by using independent, real-world, trustworthy data. This is not about picking winners it is about giving the information to allow the market to work properly. It is not us guessing where things should go, it’s saying if a new technology can prove that it’s really clean, then fantastic. But it needs to have that official stamp of independent data and it gets away from this whole vested interest of manufacturers doing it and manipulating their tests, all under the protection of the European Commission. The AIR Alliance is an open platform that anyone can join. We are transparent about our methods and if people can coalesce around that we can get away from those vested interests, the lack of transparency and untrustworthy processes.

Is the AIR Alliance only concerned with the internal combustion engine?

It’s much broader than that. Currently, we are working on another standardisation process around in-vehicle air quality. When you are sitting in your vehicle, you are in a sealed unit that contains all sorts of pollution, but the reality is that some cars are better than others. So, we are standardising the method around that, and that applies to pure electric vehicles, hybrids, trucks and tractors as well as vehicles powered by internal combustion engines.

Who funds the AIR Alliance?

It’s a member-based organisation and we have already built up an interesting range of members from the Bruno Kessler foundation –  a private research foundation based in Italy – the Energy Saving Trust, Cenex, through to more operational businesses such as MotorCheck, which is a database provider from Ireland. Those people put in a mixture of cash and kind to support the activities of AIR. We are not funded by any governments or Europe or manufacturers, and that model allows us to publish our data free of charge.

According to some reports, air pollution is linked to a faster spread of COVID-19. What’s your take on these claims?

It is quite early stages in terms of scientific evidence in terms of air pollution, the death rate and the spread of the virus. That said, studies were carried out after the SARs and MERS outbreaks and a link was found. Therefore, the idea that a respiratory-based virus has a more damaging effect in polluted areas is not just plausible, but also borne out by previous epidemics. It is well documented, and not a surprise, that certain demographic groups and geographic areas will have more health issues because of higher air pollution. So, you may well see higher mortality rates in areas where there is greater air pollution. There was one notable incident where a girl living near the South Circular in London died and, at the inquest, the coroner, for the very first time, revised the initial cause of death and then attributed it to  ‘air pollution’. That has set the precedent for the idea that air pollution can be directly linked to increased mortality. The research into the COVID-19 pandemic will come out in time and, if it follows this train of historical research, then it may well show a link. Good air quality should not be a luxury, it is something that, from a public health point of view, we should require