London litigation firm Harcus Parker has opened a new front in car emissions claims with evidence suggesting that petrol cars were also fitted with so-called defeat devices.
Until now, the scandal that has engulfed an increasing number of vehicle manufacturers has focused on diesels, but Harcus Parker said up to 100,000 petrol 1.2l Nissan Qashqais – as well as and more than a million other diesel Nissan and Renault cars – could be fitted with the devices.
These enable the cars to pass European emissions standards in test conditions, but out on the road actually they pump out illegal amounts of potentially lethal nitrogen oxide (NOx), up to 15 times the legal limit in the case of the Nissan Qashqai.
The law firm said communications between Nissan and the Department of Transport (DfT), obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests, revealed that the government tried to persuade the car manufacturer to recall and ‘fix’ some of the vehicles, but Nissan refused to do so.
The DfT wrote to Nissan in September 2017 and said: “A petrol Nissan Qashqai was selected for testing this year. We have now completed this testing, and we found that when conducting NEDC [New European Driving Cycle] tests on a test track and conducting a Real Driving Emissions test, NOx emissions results were very high for this vehicle.”
In 2018, the DfT reported that the Nissan Qashqai was still “not sufficiently well designed to control the NOx in real world conditions”.
Harcus Parker, which is now building a group to take action , said customers overpaid for their vehicles as a result of the alleged defeat devices being fitted and are entitled to compensation worth in the region of £5,000 each.
Senior partner Damon Parker said: “For the first time, we have seen evidence that car manufacturers may be cheating emissions tests of petrol, as well as diesel vehicles.
“We have written to Renault and Nissan to seek an explanation for these extraordinary results, but the data suggests to me that these vehicles, much like some VWs and Mercedes cars, know when they are being tested and are on their best behaviour then and only then.”
Mr Parker added that ‘fixes’ by other manufacturers have led to reliability issues and performance damage.
“There are, we understand, sound engineering principles which mean that there is always a trade-off between the production of NOx emissions and other important aspects of a vehicle’s performance, including carbon dioxide emissions and fuel economy.
“There are real questions over whether it is possible to adjust emissions of one without impacting others.”
Nissan is Britain’s largest car manufacturer and together with Renault – the pair have been in a strategic alliance since 1999 – sells one in every nine cars in the UK.
Harcus Parker said as many as 700,000 Renault diesel vehicles and 600,000 Nissan diesel vehicles in the UK could be fitted with the unlawful defeat devices.
Independent test data suggests that Renault and Nissan vehicles are amongst the worst on-road emitters of NOx emissions, heavier even than Volkswagen and Mercedes.
Mr Parker added: “My clients made what they believed to be the environmentally friendly choice: they bought either a diesel vehicle, with low CO2 emissions and good fuel economy, or a petrol car with a small engine.
“These are vehicles which could, and should, meet European air quality limits in normal use, but rather than spend a little more on research and development, Renault and Nissan appear to have gone down the same path as VW and Mercedes and decided to cheat the tests.
“Put simply, these consumers bought a product which did not have the characteristics it ought to have had. In some circumstances, the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations provide that consumers who are misled by traders can be entitled to a refund of 25, 50, 75, or even 100% of the purchase price of the vehicle.”
Volkswagen was the first manufacturer caught using the devices – in April, the High Court ruled  that the software it used was indeed contrary to European law. Harcus Parker was involved in the Volkswagen litigation and is bringing similar cases against Mercedes.
Mr Parker says it is becoming clear that Volkswagen was not the only offender. “It is obviously wrong for car manufacturers to continue to ignore rules on air quality and contribute to the ever-present problem of rapidly deteriorating air quality in our towns and cities.
“This claim is intended to bring these problems to light and give a new impetus to manufacturers, regulators and purchasers to introduce new, clean vehicles that can be used safely for years to come.”
The affected models include the Nissan Qashqai, Note, Juke and X-Trail, and Renault Clio, Espace, Captur, Megane and Scenic, made between 2009 and 2018.