EU car emissions test ‘deceiving customers’

The gap between what cars emit in reality and what they are officially measured as emitting has grown to nearly a quarter, and continues to grow. A report by T&E says this gap and its growth is caused by car makers’ manipulation of testing procedures, and it explains how this is done. T&E says the current test regime is not fit for purpose, a new test should replace it by 2016, and follow-up checks should be carried out on cars to show their results are consistent with the official test results.

Suspicions about a gap between what a car measures in official tests and what it consumes or emits on the road have existed for several years, but growing evidence that the gap is not due to different real-world driving styles, but because of test manipulations, has focused more attention on the problem in recent months. This led T&E to examine the gap in further detail in a report called Mind the Gap!, published earlier this month.

T&E commissioned the Dutch consultancy TNO to measure fuel consumption and CO2 emissions on six standard new cars using the official test procedures. On average, TNO found the results of their tests to be 23% higher than the official figures presented by car makers.

According to Mind the Gap!, there are about 20 ways car makers ‘creatively reinterpret’ test procedures to make fuel consumption and CO2 emissions lower (CO2 emissions are directly linked fuel consumption). Among the techniques used are:

  • taping over cracks around doors and grilles
  • overinflating the tyres
  • adjusting the wheel alignment and brakes
  • using special super-lubricants
  • minimising the weight of the vehicle
  • testing at altitude, at unrealistically high temperatures and on super-slick test tracks.

T&E cars officer Greg Archer said: ‘It’s clear the current test regime is not fit for purpose. Consumers’ trust in official information and regulation is breaking down, because what it really costs the consumer to run a car is a quarter more than the official test results say. The only way that trust can be restored is for the loopholes to be closed.’

An alternative testing procedure already exists. Known as the World Light Duty Test Procedure (WLTP), it has been developed as part of the work of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) and is aimed at enabling consumers to get a more realistic picture of vehicles’ real fuel consumption. T&E wants it introduced by 2016, and it has been vigorously supported by two leading European consumer groups (BEUC and ANEC) and the Europe branch of the International Automobile Federation (FIA). In a letter to the EU industry commissioner Antonio Tajani last December, the three bodies called for ‘a thorough overhaul’ of the EU’s test cycle and testing procedure.

T&E director Jos Dings added: ‘Car makers are not doing anything illegal, but they don’t have to – the rules are so lax that they can manipulate the results within the guidelines. In doing this, they’re not just cheating the regulations but they’re also deceiving their customers. This situation benefits no-one and must be resolved.’