Loopholes will persist in new EU emissions tests for vehicles

The IEA first wrote about vehicle tests back in 1984 and one would think we have solved the problems in accuracy. Andy Sharman writes in the Financial Times that the new emissions test will do little to bring official results into line with reality.


New emissions test still falls short, say critics

A tough new EU emissions test meant to better reflect carmakers’ performance will do little to bring official results into line with reality, a new report has warned.

The car industry has long been accused of exploiting an outdated laboratory test to produce fuel economy and emissions ratings that are advertised in marketing literature — only for drivers to fail to achieve anything like those performances on the road.

Campaigners warn that the discrepancy — currently about 35 per cent — is not only misleading consumers but also distorting the challenge facing policymakers as they seek to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars, while also grappling with concerns over the impact of diesel fumes on air quality.

Brussels is pushing to introduce by 2017 a tougher test regime, known as the worldwide harmonised light vehicles test procedure (WLTP), which better represents real-world driving and closes certain loopholes under the current, so-called NEDC test.

These loopholes — perfectly legal optimisations that fall within the rules of the current test — include leaving out car stereos and spare wheels to reduce the tested cars’ weight by an average of 70kg. The NEDC test was introduced in the 1970s and is accepted by the industry as offering little more than comparisons between vehicles.

But a new study, commissioned by the UK Committee on Climate Change and published on Monday, says that while WLTP bans certain practices, other loopholes will persist, meaning that the gap will only fall to 23 per cent by 2020 under the new regime.

Between 2002 and 2014, the gap between official and real-world CO2 emissions for new passenger cars increased from about 10 per cent to about 35 per cent, according to the CCC report, carried out by researchers at British consultancy Element Energy and the International Council on Clean Transportation.

Peter Mock head of ICCT Europe, said Europe should adopt a similar system to the US, where cars are randomly taken off the road and tested, rather than selected by the manufacturer. US real-world performance is much closer to the lab results.

The CCC report claimed that on-the-road testing would reduce the gap to 5 per cent by 2025.

The European Commission has pledged to introduce real-world driving tests for nitrogen oxides — the collective term for the emissions produced by diesel engines — using a portable emissions monitoring system not later than September 2017. But as yet there are no plans to test for CO2 this way.

The CCC report cites vehicle testing experts who say carmakers will no longer be able to harden tyres in an oven to reduce rolling resistance, but manufacturers will still be allowed to “shave” the tyres.

The gap between lab and reality will then increase again by 2025, the report warned, partly “driven by possibilities for vehicle manufacturers to exploit shortcomings of the new test procedure”. The growing popularity of plug-in hybrid vehicles — which can be driven using battery power or hydrocarbons — will also make it difficult for laboratory tests to reflect real-world driving.

“We’ve got this proposed solution but it only makes things better in the short term,” said Jack Snape, senior analyst at the CCC. “Manufacturers will respond to the test they’re given. It’s about trying to push for a test cycle that’s fit for purpose.”

Acea, the European carmakers’ association, said it recognised the “limitations” of the current test procedure. But added that real-world fuel consumption varied widely as it depended on driving style, traffic conditions, terrain, vehicle load and weather.

“Even WLTP can only generate standardised values that are also supposed to be representative and comparable,” it said.

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