Whether the VW diesel crisis promotes a dramatic shake-up in the way cars are designed, engineered and regulated is open to debate.
Experience suggests it will make some difference in all three, but that the automotive world will largely continue as before while VW fights multiple ‘headwinds’.
A business-as-usual approach is pretty welcome for all sorts of reasons, but there is one area where the industry has to reform – its approach to the forthcoming WLTP.
For the uninitiated the WLTP is the World Light-vehicle Test Programme – a global vehicle standard for measuring fuel economy and emissions.
Negotiated under the umbrella of the United Nations Economic Commission for Europe, which first created a framework to promote international trade in vehicles in the 1950s, the WLTP is intended to streamline three regional tests into one global standard.
It is a laudable aim, turning Europe’s NEDC (EUDC 1990) test, the US FTP test and Japan JC08 test into one test that will make design and development much easier and cheaper for car companies.
But as can be imagined with so much at stake, the body is about to agree a test procedure very similar to today’s and which will not result in major gains in mpg or reduction in CO2 and pollutants.
It is still not fully-signed off and its introduction date keeps being put back, which means that a test with its origins in a 1960s idea to create an ‘official’ mpg figure to replace dubious manufacturer figures, will still be in force in 2019.
Many in the car industry will be relieved. But my feeling is that the WLTP should be used by the industry to demonstrate its determination to clampdown on pollutants in use.
The price may well be that CO2 targets have to be slightly modified for a decade, putting the headline 95g/km fleet average by 2020 under the microscope.
My understanding is that the WLTP figures will have to be ‘converted’ backwards to be compatible with the previous system, anyway, so that the 95g/km can remain inviolate.
But there seems no doubt that the industry needs to agree major concessions on local pollutants – none of which will be painless in the short term.
For example, the industry needs to accept that the dozens of tiny ‘adjustments’ it runs during the test, like removing wing mirrors, choosing very lightweight test drivers and pushing the speed tolerances on the test to its lower limit, make the industry look shady in the eyes of the buying public.
These details were unknown to the wider public for decades, but the recent discrepancies in real-world and tested mpg figures have ended that conceit, so it’s widespread knowledge in a world of inter-connected social media.
It looks sensible for the European industry to take a leaf out of America’s book and accept a similar rigorous oversight as applied by the EPA to its test, in which ‘work arounds’ are impossible.
Critically, European car-makers have to accept an engineering sign-off and testing regime built around in-use compliance with figures of local pollutants.
Britain’s cities are suffering the effects of excessive NOx levels, as are many in mainland Europe and across the globe, and suspicion is widespread that many models are producing more NOx pollutants in the real-world than current tests suggest.
So a WLTP that puts in-use compliance with NOx emissions at its heart will only put the industry in a good light. Long-term that can only be good for everyone.
But if the WLTP turns out to be ‘greenwash’, the industry can expect to be under attack for the foreseeable future, which surely is not in its interest?
And it is possible. It’s time for the industry to catch-up. And fast.
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