Cars CO2

Car CO2

End game for the ‘infernal’ combustion engines

The car remains the dominant source of transport emissions and is responsible for 15% of Europe’s greenhouse gas emissions. But despite a constant flow of new Dieselgate revelations, the signing of the Paris climate agreement, and the rise of disruptive new electric vehicle manufacturers, most of Europe’s auto industry – with the help of their oil industry allies – continues to try to delay the shift to more efficient and electric vehicles. In 2016 the auto lobby proposed its “grand plan” to reduce car emissions: bold climate action by everyone else except... carmakers. The plan provided for expensive ‘intelligent transport systems’ and driver training. But also, as the coup de grâce, they proposed repaving all of Europe’s roads with ‘lower-rolling resistance surfaces’ – a snip at just €520 billion, to be funded by taxpayers, of course. Quickly debunked by T&E, the plan, thankfully, went nowhere. But it was a bleak indicator of the level of the industry’s climate ‘ambition’.

Real action by carmakers, not hot air, is needed now. And ‘real’ is the operative word: in 2016 T&E revealed that the gap between official fuel consumption figures and what cars really emit on the road had grown to 42% on average and there had been no improvement in emissions for four years. In the case of Mercedes, the worst offender, the gap was a whopping 54%. As well as causing higher CO2 emissions than claimed, the carmakers’ cheating was also costing drivers €550 more a year in additional fuel costs.

Cars CO2

T&E spends a lot of time correcting the “alternative facts” of carmakers. Our new Get-Real campaign helps spread this message. But we also work with the industry. A unique T&E collaboration with Europe’s second biggest carmaker, Peugeot-Citroën (and now also Opel) is proving crucial in demonstrating that real-world tests for CO2 are reliable, representative and reproducible. By measuring CO2 emissions directly from the exhaust using a portable emissions measurement system, T&E is helping PSA consumers receive representative information about fuel economy instead of manipulated laboratory test results. This helps motorists choose the most fuel-efficient, low-carbon models. The first results revealed gaps between official and actual emissions of 40-45% – very similar to those reported by drivers in independent customer surveys and T&E’s Mind the Gap report. A software tool also enables drivers to define how and where they drive to precisely estimate their emissions and fuel economy. This also shows how smoother driving can make a huge difference to their fuel use.

Meanwhile, T&E is fighting doggedly to legislate the notorious gap out of existence. After sustained pressure, governments gave in and agreed with the European Commission and MEPs to introduce a more accurate lab test for car fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions from 2017. In addition, T&E’s input to scientific advice received by the Commission has reinforced our message that a complementary real-world test would discourage carmakers from manipulating the new test. It will also discourage the fitting of efficiency technology that largely performs in the lab only. Our input into technical discussions has also reduced the loopholes that were taken account when adjusting the current 95g/km CO2 targets for the new test.

“The real fuel consumption of a car produced by European manufacturers is on average 42% higher than the advertised value. This comes from a study by the independent organisation Transport & Environment (T&E), that BILD received.” Bild, 21 December 2016

But closing the gap on the combustion engine’s actual emissions could only be one half of the strategy. In 2016, T&E teamed up with industry players to promote the cleaner alternative: electric vehicles. Launched in April, the Platform for Electromobility brings together major EV industry players (including Nissan-Renault, Tesla and Siemens) along with cities, public transport providers, cyclists, rail operators and civil society groups that wish to promote e-mobility. Its task is to accelerate Europe’s transition towards sustainable multimodal electro-mobility. Already its impact is being felt by Europe’s lawmakers: the Commission’s long awaited Low Emission Mobility Strategy included steps towards a California-style mandate for manufacturers to supply ultra-low (plug-in hybrids) or zero-emission (battery electric) vehicles. Now the challenge is to secure such a mandate, which will give certainty and economies of scale to carmakers and provide Europeans a wider choice in electric vehicles, which they currently lack.

The Commission’s strategy also brought another announcement that T&E had long been pushing for: ‘post-2020’ fuel efficiency and CO2 standards for cars along with a mid-2020s target. The targets will help member states meet their 2030 climate targets, and spur the switch to electric vehicles. But the standards’ effectiveness will depend on how ambitious the Commission will be. That’s T&E’s next fight.

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