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VW scandal to test governments

Diesel dilemma: Abmarc managing director Natalie Roberts said the Volkswagen Group diesel scandal could cause headaches for governments.

Focus on engines could highlight discrepancy between lab, real-world consumption

5 Oct 2015

THE expected global recall of about 11 million diesel-engined Volkswagen Group vehicles fitted with software designed to defeat emissions testing is shaping as a major test for governments around the world, according to a leading automotive engineer.

Automotive testing and validation company Abmarc managing director Natalie Roberts said the VW scandal will also create another major headache for car-makers as it will serve to highlight the yawning gap between official fuel consumption figures and those achieved in real-world testing.

Ms Roberts said Abmarc (Advanced BenchMArking, Reporting and Consulting) operates Australia’s only portable emissions measurement system (PEMS) of the type used to detect VW’s fraudulent emissions claims in the United States.

Governments will be faced with a decision over whether or not to make it compulsory for drivers to bring in their VWs for a software fix, according to Ms Roberts.

“What you’ll likely see is that all the relevant diesel vehicles are going to be recalled to have their engine calibration changed,” she said.

“But after the fix they may have higher fuel consumption or decreased performance so, if you owned a VW, would you rush down to your dealer to have your fuel consumption increased or your power decreased.”

Ms Roberts said that this raises the question as to how governments will enforce their emissions standards if consumers do not voluntarily bring in their VWs.

Ms Roberts also pointed out that car-makers had two problems to solve, the need to reduce fuel consumption and the need to reduce emissions.

“This is the catch-22 for vehicle manufacturers. They are pushed from one side by more and more stringent emissions standards, and on the other side of the spectrum they have quite stringent CO2 targets that they need to meet.

“Often with emissions and fuel economy – fuel economy being directly linked to CO2 – if you improve one, you often make the other worse,” Ms Roberts said.

“Very rarely will you improve fuel consumption and CO2 and emissions at the same time, unless you reduce vehicle weight.”

While the VW scandal is focused on diesel engines, public skepticism is likely to see a follow-on effect through the automotive market.

“This may turn out to be a bigger issue than the fraudulent VW actions alone, which knowingly increased off-cycle emissions while optimising the engines so they were acceptable during on-cycle testing.

“When you start measuring other technologies, such as hybrids and stop-start, they are all optimised for the drive cycle so you’ll have maximum benefit on the drive cycle, and when you are operating in the real world, you’ll likely have a reduced benefit.

“Testing we have done on hybrids shows that fuel consumption in the real world on some models is about 25 per cent higher than claimed.

“Petrol vehicle fuel consumption is often anywhere from 10 to 20 per cent higher than the claimed figures.

“The problem is that the official drive cycle is in no way reflective of Australian road conditions and how motorists operate their vehicles.

“Unfortunately this makes it confusing for the consumer and therefore erodes trust in the manufacturer when, in fact, it is the regulated test that is usually the issue.”

Ms Roberts said one of the biggest differences between the mandated test drive cycle and the real world was how slow the acceleration is in the lab test.

“If you jump in a car on a straight stretch of road and try to simulate the official drive cycle, you would be astonished as to how slow it is.”“In the real world, there are a lot more accelerations, faster acceleration and also higher speeds in the urban portion than you see in the European drive cycle,” she said.

Ms Roberts said the European Union had already noted that, while the car-makers had been meeting higher and higher emissions standards over the past decade, there was little evidence of it in the air people breathed.

“Europe has introduced increasingly stringent vehicle emissions standards, but monitoring of urban air quality has shown little improvement over the same period.

“That was the trigger for testing the passenger vehicles with portable emissions measurement systems and that’s when the European regulators found that diesel passenger vehicles, from Euro 3 standard on, have high NOx emissions in real world driving.

“The emissions from petrol passenger cars are generally good on-road. The problem is with the diesel-powered vehicles.”

The discovery that diesel vehicles did not meet emissions limits in the real world led the European Commission to change the testing regime for vehicle certification by including an on-road test as well as the traditional laboratory test.

“From 2016 they are going to require in-field testing on light vehicles in Europe as well as the laboratory testing to address this NOx issue,” Ms Roberts said.

“From next year, when manufacturers certify a vehicle, they will have to provide both the laboratory data and the results from testing on the road.”

A statement from the European Commission after the VW scandal broke underlined this change to the procedure.

The statement read: “Looking ahead, we count on Member States to swiftly agree on the final measures needed so that measurements of air pollutant emissions used for the delivery of a vehicle's type approval reflect emissions in real driving conditions and cannot be fooled by deceitful applications.

“A new Real Driving Emission (RDE) test procedure will be phased in from early 2016, complementing the current laboratory based testing.

“But we still need to find agreement on the type approval treatment in case of major divergence between the results of the laboratory and real driving pollutant emissions tests.

“The agreement on this package, in addition to the already adopted RDE test procedures, will allow the EU to have ambitious and robust real driving emissions testing scheme in place.”

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