Auto industry under attack: The reality of driving conditions raises questions

Peter Els

It seems as if the automotive industry and the cars it produces are under attack from all quarters: Not only have white-hat hackers had a field day showing off their skills in bringing hi-tech vehicles such as FCA’s Jeep and Tesla’s Model S to an embarrassing standstill, but Government agencies have also had their say regarding the direction various German Auto makers are taking, when faced with tough emissions regulations.

According to Federal Environment Agency(Umweltbundesamt) president, Maria Krautzberger, transport which accounts for almost a fifth of Germany's overall greenhouse emissions, is the only sector that has not managed to reduce its emissions from levels measured in 1990. This unimpressive performance is largely a result of more freight being transported by road and, importantly, European OEM’s building heavier and more powerful luxury cars, where more economical engine technology has had little impact in reducing emissions.

German automakers in particular have been criticized for building too many gas guzzling luxury cars: Vehicles such as the Mercedes-AMG G 65 SUV, powered by a 630-hp 6.0-liter V12 which pumps out an astounding 397 g of CO2 per kilometer, are polluting the atmosphere at more than 4 times the desired 2020 limits.

OEM’s ignore real world driving conditions

Although European emissions regulations may be amongst the toughest in the world, it’s no secret that OEM’s are throwing massive budgets at beating the system, rather than improving real world vehicle emissions.

In a startling report, dubbed "Mind the Gap" and released by the European Federation for Transport and Environment (T&E) in November 2014, the current system of testing cars to measure fuel economy and CO2 emissions was severely criticized for not replicating realistic driving conditions. The report concluded that laboratory and other controlled testing have become so prone to manipulation that in many cases the official figures are effectively useless.

Quoting research conducted by Spiritmonitor, a German tracker of fuel economy, the report concludes that on average only half of the improvement in emissions claimed in tests has been seen on the road, where Mercedes cars were reported to have the largest gap between test and real world performance. Although significantly more realistic even Opel/Vauxhall cars realised less than 20% of the improvement measured during controlled emissions tests, whilst the Ford Fiesta’s gap was recorded at 38 percent, and similarly the VW Golf measured 30 percent.

For the period from 2001 to 2013 the gap between test results and real-world performance increased from 8% to 31% for private motorists, and without intervention this gap is likely to increase to over 50% by 2020.

The gap between official fuel economy and CO?tests and real world driving 2013 (derived from ICCT, 2014

real world fuel consumption

Image: Transport & Environment

The difference between claimed figures and those actually achieved by drivers cost the typical motorist around €500 every year; and by 2030, the widening gap will see drivers cumulatively spending €1 trillion more on fuel, forcing the EU to import an extra 6 billion barrels of oil, thereby worsening energy security and the EU’s balance of payments. The difference between test results and real world consumption will also add 1.5bn tonnes of CO2 to the atmosphere by 2030; adding to the prospects of dangerous and uncontrolled climate change.

Furthermore, whilst the consumer is burdened with higher than expected fuel costs and emissions, the automotive industry is able to save about $8.7 billion, through this misrepresentation. The savings come because, as Volkswagen states, every gram per kilometer of carbon dioxide reduction costs about $124 million in innovation and engineering.

The automotive industry is accused of questionable practices

T&E's report came down hard on the industry, commenting that when the European Driving Cycle was introduced it was never envisaged that carmakers would go to great lengths enhancing fuel consumption and emissions figures.
Among the 20 creative but legal ways European carmakers exploit loopholes and boost official performance figures are:

• Taping over cracks around doors and grills to minimise air resistance
• Using special low-viscosity lubricants
• Disconnecting the alternator
• Adjusting the wheel alignment and brakes to reduce rolling resistance
• Testing at unrealistically high temperatures.

These practices are now commonplace, with many testing facilities offering to optimise test-vehicle performance thereby recording unrealistic results. how to optimise test-vehicle performance to cheat emissions tests

Image: The Guradian

The Society for Motor Manufacturers and Traders have on numerous occasions responded to these wide ranging accusations: Often publicly proclaiming support for changes to existing test procedures designed to better represent real-world driving. The SMMT has regularly stated that mileage data was "prone to error" because "a limited number of vehicles" were tested.

In an effort to authenticate the results vehicle manufacturers have carried out more than 3,500 independently verified tests in accordance with detailed legal guidelines set out by the European Commission. After the initial test each model is also randomly monitored as they leave the production line, taking the overall test numbers into the tens of thousands.

There’s no doubt that the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure(WLTP) due for introduction in 2017 will be an important milestone; but in parallel T&E have called for the European Commission to provide more robust information to consumers since the WLTP test results for fuel consumption are still likely to be about 15% lower than can be achieved in real world driving.

Ideally testing must also account for emissions arising from the use of auxiliary energy sources on the vehicle such as lights, air conditioning and heating and to provide a ‘real-world’ WLTP test value that can be used for consumer information and as the basis for national vehicle taxation where EU member states wish to use it.

Unlike in Europe, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) frequently adjusts its tests to ensure claims made on new-vehicle window stickers represent real-world driving rather than manufacturer-conducted lab tests. The EPA is now establishing new requirements for all manufacturers, and in anticipation of the move most of them are already complying. In fact, since the previous 2008 changes, some vehicles sold in the U.S. are offering better fuel mileage than their advertised rates.

The North Americans are also less tolerant of false claims made by manufacturers: Recently the U.S. Justice Department and the EPA concluded that Hyundai and Kia exaggerated fuel economy claims for 1.2 million cars, leading to a $100 million fine and a forfeiture of about $200 million worth of carbon credits. In June, Ford admitted to overstating fuel economy standards on six of its 2013 and 2014 models, mostly its hybrids, and agreed to pay owners up to $1,050 to compensate them for the misrepresentation.

Perhaps the real issue around fuel consumption and exhaust gas emissions has not yet been spelt out: This is as much a social issue as it is a technological challenge. Bearing this in mind maybe the question needs to be asked whether the wealthy are entitled to drive vehicles that are way out of the norm, merely because they can afford the taxes? Should these taxes not be used to physically offset the emissions produced by these non conforming vehicles – not merely a paperwork exercise in carbon credits?

Whatever route the automotive industry decides on, there’s no doubt that German motor vehicle manufacturers are under pressure to cut CO2 emissions by 10 million tonnes before 2020 to meet the climate action program agreed to last December.


Transport & Environment report - Manipulation of fuel economy test results by carmakers

Wards Auto- German environment agency takes aim at auto sector over climate change

International Business Times - Automakers Are Cheating To Meet European Emissions, Fuel Economy Goals (Angelo Young)

Related Stories:

INFOGRAPHIC: Are European Carmakers Failing To Meet 2020 Emission Demands


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