The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe is currently involved in developing new global fuel consumption and emissions test cycles, along with experts from India, Japan, the USA and China.
The results are due to be adopted by the EC and Britain, and we might hope they would bring a breath of reality to the existing discredited EC “official” fuel figures. In a commercially competitive world, the manufacturers have had little alternative but to optimise their cars to produce the best EC test figures, unrealistic though these are, whilst governments and regulators have gone along with the big lie, knowing that more realistic tests will necessitate renegotiation of emissions targets and agreements that were based on those optimistic figures. These new test procedures and cycles should be finalised by 2015, and applied to new type approvals from 2016/17, subject to possible delay as manufacturers may have to fight heavy fines levied for exceeding emissions targets based on the old figures. Then there are problems of phasing in regulations to cover both new and old test figures, as testing of existing models on the new cycles would be near-on virtually impossible and prohibitive on cost grounds.
The new structure involves global test cycles for three classes of vehicles, defined by power-to-weight ratio, each with their own acceleration rates and top speeds for the four-part test cycles. In addition to cycles equivalent to our current urban and extra urban cycles, there will be two newly introduced open road and high-speed motorway type cycles. Based on what we have read, these new World Light vehicle harmonised Test Cycles (WLTC) are likely to result in little change compared with the existing official EC fuel consumption and CO2 emissions figures, although the effects of changes to vehicle preparation and test conditions is as yet unknown. But the proposed cycles significantly reduce the length and effects of idling periods, without which the fuel figures would be around eight per cent lower in mpg terms than the existing EC figures, and with which the changes will in fact be barely significant. The longer proposed test cycles (around twice as long, at 30 minutes covering 23.3km) also reduce the effect of cold starts, although countries, or blocs like the EC, may lower test ambient temperatures, possibly to 15 to 18 degrees Celsius for Europe against the existing 25 degrees, which may return slightly more realistic figures.
Even so, as much as a ten per cent drop in “official” mpg figures, and similar increase in CO2 emissions will still not eliminate the reality gap of more like 20 to 25 per cent between the existing official fuel figures and what UK owners typically achieve, which should have been one of the major objectives. We read all 62 pages of an October 2013 draft report on how the test cycles were developed and there’s still a yawning gap between the idealistic test cycles produced, real world driving habits, and the road conditions that we all regularly encounter. They say “The developed test cycle and the gearshift procedures were tested in several laboratories all over the world. The dynamics of the WLTC reflect the average driving behaviour of light duty vehicles in the real world.” We disagree strongly. Why are the acceleration and deceleration rates in the proposed cycles still unrealistically low, as we believe they are? Why is the overall average speed set at just under 29mph – lower than the average speed of the annual UK MPG Marathon economy event? Few of our roads are straight, and flat, whilst the test cycles still replicate flat terrain motoring, with nothing factored in for fuel used to climb hills and negotiate bends, let alone to park up at a congested supermarket. We have pointed out before in Diesel Car that the USA’s FDA highway test cycle gives quite sensible figures for European diesels – like 52.5mpg for a Golf 2.0 TDI, whose EC combined figure is a less realistic 68.9mpg. So why this lengthy and costly effort to “harmonise” with the tropical and sub-tropical world, with continued replication of unreal driving behaviour and conditions, giving results that look likely to again deceive and infuriate British motorists, and further confuse global pollution control legislation for private cars. Drivers are not going to be happy if this all comes into effect!