Are you confused by the VW emissions scandal yet? I genuinely thought I had a pretty good handle on it until this afternoon, when the UK government announced that it is going to launch its own inquiry into the testing processes.
Frankly, I think we could all pretty much save them the bother. I’ll wager that when they test the cars in the real world, they’ll find that the vast majority of the vehicles in question don’t match any of the figures that they produce in the laboratory - CO2, economy, NOx, whatever. Nor will it matter how many times they re-test them; they’ll still fall short.
Does that mean they’re all cheating? Of course not. It means the test is flawed; we all know it is. Our sister title What Car? evaluates vehicles in the UK and in real-world conditions for its True MPG numbers, and in general if a car gets to within 10% of its official figure - obtained through the EU’s NEDC certification - then it’s seen as a bit of a star.
The NEDC tests occur in labs around the world that the manufacturers and engineers know from back to front and top to bottom, with very specific inputs from the (trained) drivers. There’s no traffic; there are no changes in road conditions or surfaces. Some of the approved acceleration rates are so slow that hybrid cars can do chunks of the cycle running on electricity alone. The official test is all about consistency, not relevance - and to a limited extent, that makes sense.
What’s occurred, though, over the past few days is a dreadful blurring of the lines between CO2 emissions and the NOx test that caught out VW in the United States. And the government has fallen for it hook, line and sinker.
Let’s hypothesise about what’s going to happen, then. The government spends a pile of tax-payers’ money investigating emissions tests. It concludes that cars rarely live up to their economy, CO2 or NOx figures when they’re being driven in the real world - but that this is down to lots of clever engineers having acute understanding of a flawed test procedure instead of them blatantly cheating.
As a result of this additional research, the government calls for the EU to hasten the reform of the NEDC test so it more accurately reflects real-world driving. The EU informs the government that it’s already doing this. We spend a lot. We learn remarkably little. And what’s going to happen, er, happens anyway. Make sense to you? No, me neither.