Study alleges manipulation of fuel consumption figures

Study alleges manipulation of fuel consumption figures

22 March 2013 by Pelle Neroth

The European parliament is making life tougher for car manufacturers. It has already set rules requiring carmakers to reach a sales weighted average of CO2 emissions of 130gm/km for new cars from 2015.

This week, an influential parliamentary committee voted to implement a tougher limit of 95gm of CO2 per kilometre for 2020, and made the recommendation to set tougher rules still for 2025.

What's more, the European parliament wants to crack down on car makers' testing methods that allow them to post what one study* alleges to be manipulated figures for fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. These "massaged" figures make their models appear more appealing to customers and put the cars in a lower tax bracket than might otherwise have been the case. (Since many cars are taxed on the basis of their CO2 emissions.)

The proposed solution - rigorous EU-wide standardisation of testing methods - would make it even more challenging for car makers to achieve the stricter CO2 emissions goals being proposed at the same time.

The European parliament's Industry Committee's decisions have to pass through several other European parliament committees and the full parliament, and then be approved by the member states. But it may be significant that the Industry Committee is usually the most industry friendly and "green" sceptical body in the European parliament. Votes that it passes that favour greening the economy are likely to pass the other committees with even greater probability.

On the member state side, Germany, protective of the challenges facing its makers of large cars, may resist the legislation. But, if it lacks other countries' support, it is likely to be outvoted in the Council of Ministers - the voting forum of member states - when the legislation gets that far this year or next.

The report that alleges "manipulation of figures" for emissions finds that fuel consumption - and therefore CO2 emissions - is, in some models, an astonishing 50% higher than the figures carmakers officially claim and which appear in their promotional material.

That is because the tests that measure fuel use doesn't look at real world conditions, but are carried out in special, favourable conditions. For instance, the car makers tape over cracks in doors and grilles to reduce air resistance, overinflate the tyres, disconnect the alternator to prevent the car battery from charging while tests are carried out, push the brake pads fully into the calipers to reduce rolling resistance, The tests are carried out at high altitude on specially-constructed smooth racing tracks, which gives lower fuel usage statistics. Finally the cars when tested are not run with their air conditioning or car stereo on, both of which increase fuel consumption. The result, say MEPs, is often a rude shock to car buyers, who find their fuel costs far exceed what they had been led to believe by car manufacturers.

The EU hopes to follow a standardised international procedure being worked out by the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe.

So what is the problem? The EU puts forward the usual arguments: that the legislative challenges the EU throws up forces manufacturers - not just of cars - into greater innovations of efficiency and thus ultimately makes them more competitive on the world market, as well as producing better products for consumers. But you do wonder. The European car makers' association ACEA says customers' responses may be hard to predict. Even if a car with new technology might be cheaper to run once on the road, its initial sales price, boosted by having new technology built in, might be too high - and the customer may then choose to stick with his old car or buy a polluting, old second hand car. And that leaves no one any better off.

Looking at the bigger picture, there is the argument that as long as India and China keep increasing their emissions, the restrictions put on European manufacturers may not make a huge difference to saving the planet - and that European manufacturers will thus be pointlessly handicapped when facing countries that do not wear self-imposed environmental hair shirts.

All this at a time when Europe is suffering the worst economic crisis in a generation.

*Mind the Gap

Pelle Neroth -- EU correspondent

Edited: 27 March 2013 at 03:25 PM by View from Brussels Moderator

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    Posted By: Pelle Neroth @ 22 March 2013 03:37 PM     Legislation  

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