I’m just back from a very interesting trip to the Hyundai Kia European Research and Development Centre. Based in Opel’s home town of Rüsselsheim, it’s home to a substantial powertrain development centre, as well as a big design studio.
We were shown around some of the centre’s test beds by Dr Joachim Hahn, including the lab where the NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) fuel economy tests are replicated. Like most drivers, I’ve long been suspicious of the NEDC figures, which don’t seem to relate to the real world.
So I asked Dr Hahn about the NEDC and the conditions in which the test are carried out. Incredibly, cars are tested in ambient temperatures of 25degC (77degF) after being ‘pre-conditioned’, or warmed up. Of course, warm summer days are rather better for fuel consumption that freezing conditions, when oil is thicker and internal friction greater. Hahn said tests at -10degC showed real-world consumption was "much worse" than in normal conditions.
Dr Hahn also revealed that the car industry was currently in negotiations with the European authorities about changing the parameters for the NEDC, by "starting the test at a cooler temperature and making it more dynamic". Which, translated, means making the tests just a little more like real-world conditions.
The downside to this outbreak of reality is that the stated fuel economy of virtually every car on sale will get worse and the all-important Co2 figures will rise. Changing the NEDC test then raises the problem of how car makers will then hit the fleet average Co2 targets that the EU is demanding.
Remember, that by 2020, a car maker’s average Co2 output, across its entire range, has to be just 95g/km. If the NEDC test is changed, car makers may not be able to hit the agreed target. So either the test changes, or the EU’s targets do.
Still, the appliance of science by the car industry, in the pursuit of fuel economy remains impressive. Even accounting for the unrealistic NEDC test, the 85g/km-rated Kia Rio 1.1-litre diesel is an amazing achievement. With the diesel motor meeting EU5 pollution regulations, the case for conventional, costly, hybrids is further undermined.
Interestingly, Hahn suggested that a battery electric vehicle, when charged up in continental Europe, should be awarded a Co2 rating of around 75g/km. Of course the EV’s 75g/km is 'real world’ because driving conditions do not affect the Co2 emissions of the power station supplying the juice.
So, although this Kia’s 85g/km won’t quite be repeated in the real world, it shows just how much life there is left in the internal combustion engine.