Renault is recalling thousands of vehicles to make engineadjustments after emission levels were found to exceed anti-pollution standards in some of its cars.
The French carmaker’s head of engineering said that 15,800 diesel vehicles were to be called back due to an error which was “detected and corrected” in mid-2015.
France’s second biggest auto manufacturer – of which the French state owns nearly 20% – is under the spotlight after it emerged last week that anti-fraud investigators had raided several company sites, sending stocks plunging.
Amid fears it could be caught up in an emissions scandal similar to the one engulfing Germany’s Volkswagen, officials announced that no pollution-cheating software had been found on Renault cars. However, a commission appointed by the French government said the company’s diesel cars had nevertheless failed pollution tests.
The company’s director of engineering, Gaspar Gascon Abellan, told reporters that Renault had discovered “a calibration error” in the emissions-reduction system of its diesel engines in July.
The problem led to nitrogen oxides and sulphur not being properly eliminated, which meant the particle filter was “completely losing its efficiency”, he told a news conference at Renault headquarters.
The error was fixed at the start of September and the recall began two months later, he added.
The recall concerns Renault’s diesel-engine Captur model produced in Europe between February and September last year.
“We agree that our position is not satisfactory,” said Renault’s chief competitive officer, Thierry Bolloré. He disputed some of the reported measurements, but added: “We are the first ones to admit that we have room for improvement.”
Earlier, the ecology minister, Ségolène Royal, whose portfolio includes transport, said on RTL radio that Renault was recalling 15,000 new vehicles “to check them and adjust them correctly so that the filtration system works” in all temperatures.
“New cars must meet the norms,” she said, adding that the adjustment could be made quickly. “To correctly adjust an engine takes half a day.”
She said that other carmakers found to have exceeded the norms had agreed to appear before the commission but declined to name them.
The commission, set up in the wake of the VW case, tested vehicles from eight foreign and French brands, finding carbon dioxide and nitrogen dioxide emissions from Renault cars to be too high, as well as those in some non-French models.
On Monday, Renault pledged to draw up a technical plan over the coming weeks to bring down harmful emissions. This would involve improving pollution-cutting systems in diesel engines to be modified through a software update from July. “There will be a proposal to customers but not a recall since the vehicles conform,” Bolloré told reporters.
Renault sales director Thierry Koskas insisted that the company was not cheating but acknowledged a problem had emerged between test and real conditions on the road.
“I want to restate this very firmly,” he said, presenting the group’s 2015 sales results. “We are not using any software or other [fraudulent] methods. In test conditions, we respect emissions norms.”
Renault had already announced last month that it would spend €50m (£38m) on emissions reduction, after German consumer body Umwelthilfe found what it called “frightening” pollution levels when testing a Renault Espace diesel model.
Shares in Renault and other car companies fell last week amid fears that the emissions scandal embroiling VW might be spreading across the sector.
The German carmaker was forced to admit in September that it had fitted 11m diesel engines worldwide with devices designed to cheat emissions tests.
Renault stocks slumped by more than 20% during Thursday’s trading after unions reported the raids by anti-fraud investigators in early January, before closing about 10% lower.