Carmakers’ gaming of emissions tests ‘cost drivers £136bn

Drivers in Europe have paid €150bn more on fuel than they would have if their vehicles had performed as well on-the-road as in official laboratory-based tests, according to a new report.


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Car companies have legally gamed official tests of fuel economy for many years by, for example, using very hard tyres during tests or taking out equipment to make cars lighter. The gap between test and actual performance has soared from 9% in 2000 to 42% today.

Analysts at research and campaign group Transport & Environment have now calculated that this difference cost motorists in Europe €150bn (£136bn) in extra fuel between 2000 and 2017. UK drivers paid €3.5bn more in 2017 alone, and a total of €24bn since 2000.

A new more realistic lab test is now in place but the European commission uncovered new evidence in July that this was also being gamed by carmakers. This means the increases in fuel efficiency being demanded by the EU as part of its action on climate change are still being undermined and drivers will continue to use more fuel than policymakers intend.

Greg Archer, at Transport & Environment, said carmakers’ claims of big improvements in fuel consumption are illusory: “Despite regulations to reduce emissions, there has been no real-world improvement in CO2 emissions for five years and just a 10% improvement since 2000 – far less than the industry like to claim. The victims are citizens that have paid out €150bn for more fuel and are also suffering the consequences of unchecked climate change.”

A spokeswoman for the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) said: “It is a matter of fact that technological improvements to new cars have resulted in major CO2 reductions in the past decades, leading to important savings for consumers.”

Until recently, all cars underwent a lab-based fuel efficiency test called NEDC. But legal loopholes allowed manufacturers to produce much lower emissions in the tests than on the road, thereby undermining an EU drive towards lower carbon emissions and more economical motoring.

Some discrepancy between a standardised test and real-world driving is expected, so the Transport & Environment calculations used the 9% gap in 2000 as a starting point. It then worked out how much fewer fuel drivers in Europe would have needed if that gap had remained constant, rather than rising to 42%. As well as costing motorists more, the gap means CO2 emissions from cars were 47m tonnes more than intended by the regulations in 2017 alone.

A new more rigorous test, called WLTP, applies to all new cars sold from September 2018 and it is far more reflective of real-world driving, being longer and involving faster accelerations. It also eliminates some of the test loopholes.

However, the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre (JRC) found evidence that car makers were still gaming the new test, although in an unexpected way – to report higher emissions. The rationale for this is that the new WLTP will be used as a baseline for the 15% CO2 reductions proposed by the commission for cars by 2025.

Tactics used were starting tests with a depleted battery, meaning more fuel was used to charge it up, and switching up gears more slowly, so the engine speed was faster for longer. These inflated the results by 4.5% on average and up to 13% for some vehicles, the JRC said. Transport & Environment said the gaming could mean carmakers have to deliver just half the emissions reductions intended.

“ACEA fully agrees that CO2 values should not be artificially increased on purpose in any way that would undermine the post-2020 CO2 targets,” the spokeswoman said, adding that the issue “is not an industry-wide problem”. All companies should ensure future CO2 reductions are not delivered by optimisation of the testing procedure, she said.

A separate report from the UK’s RAC Foundation has found that tens of thousands of popular cars will be unable to use a new fuel that may be introduced to cut carbon emissions. Regular petrol already contains 5% bioethanol, which is produced from plants, but ministers are proposing to increase that to 10%.

However, 634,000 cars would be incompatible with E10 fuel by 2020, according to the analysis. Many are vintage vehicles but some are popular family cars, including 28,000 VW Golfs and 16,000 Nissan Micras. A current government consultation suggests that larger garages offering E10 in future must also offer standard E5 as well.

Damian Carrington 

This article first appeared on the Guardian

edie is part of the Guardian Environment Network

© Faversham House Ltd 2022 edie news articles may be copied or forwarded for individual use only. No other reproduction or distribution is permitted without prior written consent.

Comments (1)

  1. C. Alvin Scott says:

    This should be No surprise to anyone I have pointed this out on a number of occasions on this site and many others.

    Trip computer gives an adequate picture because the real facts are so great from the fiction. When the real time driving shows that the claimed mpg takes roughly half a gallon more to attain, it does not need special sensors and massive investment in tech to know that it needs ONE EXTRA GALLON to complete the stated miles for TWO GALLONS easy to see that.

    Without going into precise figure we can see we as drivers are being misled, is this yet another Misselling event of monumental size.

    I have had a debate with a Professor directly involved in engine R&D re; that people in his position have been part of a Conspiracy of Silence, obviously he did not like that accusation, BUT he was not able to refute the situation that if he is professing to be able to cut 5% emissions by engine improvements then He knows that these claims in sales literature are a lie.

    There is only one way forwards, Zero emission Hydrogen Stop Auto R&D into lower carbon engines or better still a Zero Emissions Centre of Excellence with Government funding on a similar scale to that handed to Batteries and put people in charge who have NO links to Oil and Gas

    Stop wasting money on layer after layer of Chiefs and let the Indians have funding without months of Funding Competition jumping through Hoops when that time could be better spent on innovation and collaboration with the University which is supporting getting rid of Fossil Fuels not the other way round
    Al Scott
    PhusionH2 (with University of Nottingham)

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