19 October 2015

Diesel cars and vans could become ‘unaffordable' as emissions battle rages

Some diesel cars and vans could become unaffordable and be withdrawn from sale as motor manufacturers battle with European Union legislators over forthcoming vehicle emission testing regulations.

The claim from the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) could radically transform fleet operations with diesel dominating company car decision making and almost exclusively the fuel of choice across van fleets.

The ongoing emissions cheating scandal that has engulfed the Volkswagen Group has thrown further light on the long-running discussions surrounding introduction of the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedures (WLTP). The European Commission wants to introduce the new test in 2017, but manufacturers are lobbying for this to be delayed to 2020.

There has been widespread criticism of the laboratory-based testing of vehicles using the long-established new European Driving Cycle (NEDC) system.

The European Union, with the support of the United Nations, is planning to introduce the new WLTP for measuring vehicle MPG and CO2 emissions that better reflect real-world driving conditions and state-of-the-art technologies.

There is a direct correlation between a vehicle’s CO2 emissions and MPG. Criticism of the NEDC test centres on the inability of drivers in real-world conditions to match official MPG figures published by motor manufacturers.

Included within the WLTP is the real driving emissions (RDE) test. Earlier this year, the European Commission said the RDE test would come into effect in January 2016. However, in that initial stage the portable emissions system will be used for monitoring purposes and it will have no implications on the conformity certificate issued by the national type-approval authority.

The commission aims to have the not-to-exceed emission limits applicable for all type approvals in autumn 2017 and for new vehicles in autumn 2018, but motor manufacturers are pressing for a delay until 2020.

The RDE test will be incorporated into the WLTP, which has been adopted globally for measuring pollutant emissions and CO2 emissions from passenger cars and light commercial vans in the laboratory.

ACEA said it supported a robust but realistic RDE package that would address the key environmental issues under a two-step approach, as already agreed by the member states. It added that it ‘fully understood’ the need for step 1 of RDE to commence from September 2017 for new vehicle types, and had always been committed to that.

However, it stressed the need for timeline and testing conditions that took into account the technical and economic realities of today’s markets, allowing for ‘reasonable transition time to apply RDE to all new vehicles’.

‘We are fully aligned with the need to better measure the emissions of nitrogen oxides (NOx) from diesel cars and vans under normal driving conditions,’ said Erik Jonnaert, ACEA Secretary General. ‘However, it is important to proceed in a way which allows manufacturers to plan and implement the necessary changes, without jeopardising the role of diesel as one of the key pillars for fulfilling future CO2 targets.’

Without realistic timeframes and conditions, some diesel models could effectively become unaffordable, forcing manufacturers to withdraw them from sale, claimed Mr Jonnaert, adding: ‘This could have repercussions upon consumer choice as well as employment in the wider automotive sector. This will affect not only passenger cars but also lighter commercial vehicles, where diesel is presently the technology of choice for operators.

‘Our industry is committed to contributing constructively to the efforts of the commission and member states to upgrade emissions testing. Clarity and predictability will enable manufacturers to continue investing in technologies that meet even higher standards and contribute to the fight against climate change.’