EU Debate highlights difference between official MPG and real-life MPG

eu-emissions-debate.jpg “Stop the car makers from ‘cheating’ the system” was the message from last week’s EU Parliamentary debate at Sunderland’s Nissan Plant.

There were allegations that car manufacturers are artificially improving economy figures using non-production cars, taping door handles to improve aerodynamic performance and using special tyres, overinflated for less rolling resistance. This exploitation of loopholes under the current test regulations has been thrust into the spotlight as a result of EU proposals to lower CO2 emissions targets for car makers.

A panel of key figures both within the automotive industry and in the political sphere met to debate the challenges facing the automotive industry, should the EU Parliament vote in favour of lowering CO2 emissions targets to 95g/km. The target is part of a commitment by EU member countries to drive down CO2 emissions.

The New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) is a test to understand the fuel efficiency of the car, currently stated in MPG (miles per gallon). If a car’s official MPG is significantly overinflated from its real world driving capabilities, there is a risk that the CO2 emissions being recorded are wildly inaccurate.

The plan is to move to a new ‘World Test Cycle’, but the transition has had an ever-changing action date. Fiona Hall, MEP, confirmed that the wording of the legislation had now been changed to ‘as soon as is feasible’.

The ‘tweaks’ made by manufacturers for the NEDC test are within the scope of the regulations, yet have long been acknowledged to inaccurately record the official MPG for production cars. Hall cited a 20% difference in CO2 emissions between official MPG and real-life MPG figures.

The current NEDC test was heavily criticised by Greg Archer, from Transport and Environment (T&E), a Brussels-based environmental group, who launched a vitriolic tirade against the abuse of loopholes in the “hopelessly out of date” regulations.

“It’s not a fair comparison when only 2% of German drivers can achieve the same efficiency as the NEDC rating…[the test cycle] doesn’t represent cars built or driven and they [auto makers] are manipulating the rules with tweaks. It’s entirely misleading consumers.”

Driver behaviour is often cited as the reason drivers are unable to obtain the same fuel efficiency claims stated in showrooms. Indeed, an audience member raised the need to educate drivers in energy efficient use of their vehicles.

German manufacturers currently don’t feature any zero emissions models in their ranges and have responded critically to the proposed new emissions targets. They claim the 95g/km target is too ambitious. However all panellists were in agreement that the targets needed to be lowered.

Concerns over slow zero emission vehicle sales, the lack of focus on other air pollutants and a shortage in skilled workforce were also debated. There was the overriding question of whether ‘going electric’ was truly a step into the future.

Adrian Morris, University of Sunderland, warned, “If we’re not at the forefront of these technologies, other countries, in particular Germany, are looking to establish themselves as the centre. If we miss this opportunity, thousands of jobs are at stake. We don’t want to be a screwdriver country, we want to be driving the strategy.”

By Cat Dow

Photography: Nigel Rogers

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