Car CO2 emissions drop 4%, but test manipulation at play

Carbon dioxide missions from new cars sold in the EU decreased almost 4% in 2013 compared to the previous year, according to provisional data from the European Environment Agency (EEA). But T&E has warned that the official figures do not match up on the road. While progress has been made by carmakers, flaws in the emissions test exaggerate the improvements, it is claimed.

The EEA reports a fall in average CO2 emissions from cars to 127 grams per kilometre (g/km) – indicating that manufacturers can easily achieve the 2015 target of 130 g/km required under EU law. 
 
The Netherlands (109g CO2/km), Greece (111g) and Portugal (112g) saw the highest sales of the most efficient vehicles while eastern European countries such as Latvia, Estonia and Bulgaria sold the least efficient cars.
 
But research by T&E shows that average fuel-efficiency figures achieved by drivers on the road are 23% worse than official figures claimed.
 
The amount of CO2 a car emits is directly related to the amount of fuel it consumes. Therefore, the gap between tests and ‘real world’ would mean that while on average new cars in 2013 achieved 5 litres of fuel per 100 km in tests, the average car actually consumed 6.25 l/100 km on the road, costing a motorist an extra €350 in fuel a year. T&E’s Mind the Gap report attributes half of the difference to the carmakers’ exploitation of loopholes and flexibilities in the out-dated car test.
 
Common techniques to manipulate test results include taping over cracks around the doors and grills, over-inflating tyres, adjusting wheel alignment and brakes, and minimising the weight of the vehicle. T&E’s research indicates that not using all of these tricks increases CO2 emissions in the test by 19-27%, explaining the gap between test and reality.
 
Yet the car industry has recently been pushing back against a more rigorous, closer-to-reality EU emissions test, which would drive investment in fuel-efficiency technology and mean lower fuel bills for drivers as well as fewer health problems and a smaller contribution to climate change.
 
‘Fuel efficiency standards for vehicles are Europe’s single most effective policy to drive down CO2 emissions, but are being undermined by an obsolete test,’ said Greg Archer, clean vehicles manager at T&E. ‘The test procedures are a Swiss cheese, full of loopholes, that carmakers exploit to exaggerate improvements in fuel economy and emissions.’
 
Europe’s current testing regime was developed more than 40 years ago. The European Commission plans to have a new test cycle, the World Light Duty Test Procedure (WLTP), by 2017. While it is widely supported by MEPs, carmakers want to delay it until after 2021.
 
Archer added: ‘EU Member States must support the Commission in quickly introducing new tests to stop carmakers misleading their customers and cheating the laws.’
 
Car manufacturers are required under EU law to limit their average car to 130g of CO2 per km by 2015, and 95g by 2021. The Commission intends using a conversion factor for the new test to adjust the 2021 target so that it requires no additional effort from carmakers but reflects the ambition of the initial target.
 
Cars are responsible for around 12% of the EU’s total CO2 emissions and are the single largest source of total transport emissions.