Renault shares drop after reports of potential emissions fine

Shares in Renault fell as much as 6 per cent on Thursday following media reports that the carmaker could face fines for breaching emissions rules, as regulators continue to crack down on carmakers following the Volkswagen scandal.

French media reported that the country’s economic fraud watchdog had found that Renault had misled customers about how much its models pollute on 900,000 cars, and that management may have known.

Renault said that it had not seen the report by the fraud office, the DGCCRF, but that the company didn’t breach European or national vehicle standards and its models “are not equipped with cheating software affecting anti-pollution systems.”

The company also added:

Renault will prove its compliance with the regulations and reserves its explanations for the judges in charge of investigating this case.

Despite the denial, investors have been jittery about emission investigations ever since VW admitted in 2015 that software used to deceive official emission tests had been placed in up to 11m of its diesel vehicles, leading to heavy fines.

Shares dropped 6 per cent in early trading, before recovering slightly to a 3.8 per cent decline by publication time.

The French government, which owns 20 per cent of Renault, set up a national commission to scrutinise vehicles sold by various carmakers in France after the VW scandal in 2015.

The commission’s report last year found that NOx emissions for many Renault models went well beyond official limits during normal driving conditions, and by a factor of more than 10 in the case of some vehicles.

The committee also said that Renault’s emissions systems only activated under certain temperature ranges, but they did not have the means to test if there was any specific software used to trick the tests. Renault has repeatedly denied that any such software exists.

In January, French judges opened a preliminary investigation into the company looking for “suspected cheating” that could result in “products dangerous to health”. This followed raids on three Renault offices, where documents were taken.

On Wednesday, French newspaper Liberation and news agency AFP reported that the DGCCRF had said in a confidential report from November 2016 to prosecutors that the carmaker had aimed to skew test results.

As a result, as many as 900,000 cars with emissions breaching standards could have been sold, said the paper. Renault said that the reports were “unbalanced”.

The report did not say that they had found evidence that Renault used specific software, however, which is what led to the fines for VW. The fraud office also did not use accuse Renault of cheating, but of misleading, according to the reports.

Carmakers employ a range of techniques to achieve optimal performances in the lab tests, including shaving, baking and overinflating tyres, and dispensing with auxiliary equipment, such as entertainment systems.

This is in principle perfectly legal, although in the wake of VW scandal, these techniques have come under increased scrutiny.

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