Consumers being mislead on emissions – with or without illegal acts

We set up Emissions Analytics four years ago to understand the differences in emissions and fuel economy between the laboratory test and real-world driving conditions in Europe and the United States.  Over that time, Emissions Analytics has tested over 1000 cars in Europe and the United States, including over 200 European diesel passenger cars, and makes this data commercially available to many parts of the automotive industry to help bring about a better regulatory regime and help rebuild trust between car manufacturers and consumers.

The illegal action of one manufacturer in the United States threw light, in dramatic fashion last week, on a European situation of higher than expected real-world emissions generated wholly or largely through legal activities.  Even legal activity, where it gives rise to misleading results, can be enough to cast wrongful doubt on a whole industry.  Having robust, independent real-world emissions data that can sort good from bad is the future, and we plan to lead this.

To summarise the facts in the European market, we have found that real-world emissions of the regulated nitrogen oxides are four times above the official level, determined in the laboratory.  Real-world emissions of carbon dioxide are almost one-third above that suggested by official figures.  For car buyers, this means that fuel economy on average is one quarter worse than advertised.  This matters, even if no illegal activity is found.  These differences may well be explained by limitations in the official system, rather than through illegality.

Emissions Analytics has been highlighting these issues for some years now, along with many partners who have analysed our results as well as similar data from other sources.  In order to make our findings more accessible and useable to the market, we will be launching an independent accreditation initiative, and we invite all interested parties to participate.

Air quality…it’s hotting up

Will 2015 be recognised as a turning point in the campaign for clean air? It certainly has the potential to as there are a number of threads which, if they come together, could determine the future prospects for urban air quality in Europe.

For instance, the second stage of the Euro 6 regulations for passenger cars will come into force from September. All new cars registered will need to meet reduced limits for NOx, albeit still measured on the artificial laboratory New European Driving Cycle (NEDC).

Also, negotiations will come to a head in the EU around the Conformity Factor for the third stage of the Euro 6 regulations. This will see the use of Portable Emissions Measurement Systems (PEMS) becoming mandatory for the first time. Emissions Analytics has argued long for such portable testing in real-world driving, so this is significant progress. However, a high Conformity Factor (the permissible exceedence of the regulated limits) for a long period could limit the effectiveness of the regulation.

Additionally, the UK government must come up with a new air quality plan after its defeat in the Supreme Court. The activist legal group, ClientEarth, accused the government of failing to meet legal limits for air pollution and the Supreme Court found in its favour, instructing the government to draw up a new plan by the end of 2015.

So, let’s take stock of what Emissions Analytics’ real-world test data is telling us on these points.

The second stage of the Euro 6 regulations is likely to reinforce the existing trend of significantly reducing NOx, but there will still be large exceedances over the regulations. Emissions from Euro 6 diesels are on average 0.340 g/km when they should be 0.08g/km, although this is a 54% reduction on the 0.736 g/km from Euro 5. The issue is much less for gasoline vehicles, which are on average 24% below the 0.06g/km limits. However, 22% of vehicles tested by Emissions Analytics did not meet the limit.

Regarding the Conformity Factor at the third stage of Euro 6, there is growing evidence that, in time, a low factor is viable. Across all Euro 5 diesels we tested, just one met the regulated level.  So far for Euro 6 four have already met the limit, using a mix of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) and lean NOx trap (LNT) after-treatment systems. There is still much work to do, but the evidence shows that the limits themselves could be met.

A new version of the UK’s air quality plan is being written by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and Secretary of State Liz Truss has announced consultation “later this year”. Crucial in our view will be the understanding and modelling of primary NO2 emissions, as this is a major contributor towards roadside pollution yet is not specifically regulated by Euro 6. Emissions Analytics has found that the variation in this fraction of NO2 in NObetween models has also grown, as a result of differences in after-treatment technologies; for Euro 6 diesels it is 17%-80%, where previously is was 27%-70% in Euro 5 models.

To assist the industry in making a success of Euro 6, Emissions Analytics recently launched an online database of its results, which will be updated in real-time as it continues its rolling test programme. We don’t know yet how these important developments will impact urban air quality but we will be tracking it closely.

Aug 15 database