Green guide, grey area

There are ma­jor dis­par­i­ties be­tween claimed and real-world fuel fig­ures

Herald Sun - Motoring - - NEWS - BILL McKIN­NON bill.mckin­non@news.com.au

WHEN it comes to fuel use, we’re be­ing urged to go a deeper shade of green — so you’d think that when you’re re­search­ing and buy­ing a new car, ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about how thirsty and en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly it is would be freely avail­able and easy to find. Not so. The op­po­site is true. Volk­swa­gen is be­ing hung, drawn and quar­tered for pro­vid­ing con­sumers with mis­lead­ing fuel con­sump­tion and emis­sions fig­ures. The fact is the Aus­tralian Govern­ment is do­ing ex­actly the same.

Fuel con­sump­tion fig­ures pub­lished on the Green Ve­hi­cle Guide (GVG) web­site by the Depart­ment of In­fra­struc­ture and Re­gional De­vel­op­ment, and also found on the wind­screen stickers on all new cars, can be al­most 50 per cent op­ti­mistic ac­cord­ing to re­al­world con­sump­tion num­bers pro­vided to Carsguide by the NRMA.

The Land Rover Dis­cov­ery Sport SD4 2.0-litre turbo diesel av­er­ages 6.1L/100km ac­cord­ing to Land Rover and the Green Ve­hi­cle Guide.

When the NRMA tested the ve­hi­cle, it av­er­aged 9.0L/100km, or 47.5 per cent more than the of­fi­cial fig­ure.

Aus­tralia adopted the Euro­pean emis­sions stan­dard and fuel con­sump­tion test in 2003. This test is used to ob­tain the of­fi­cial fig­ures claimed by car mak­ers.

It con­sists of five sim­u­lated city and high­way driv­ing cy­cles over a to­tal of 11km. The test is done in lab­o­ra­to­ries, not on the road. The car mak­ers them­selves do the test and sup­ply the fig­ures to the govern­ment, which takes them on face value and pub­lishes them unchecked, with no au­dit­ing for ac­cu­racy or truth­ful­ness.

The com­bined av­er­age con­sump­tion fig­ure is ar­rived at by weight­ing the ur­ban and high­way num­bers and adding the two to get an av­er­age for the fi­nal fig­ure.

The fact that 63.1 per cent of the av­er­age comes from the high­way part of the test ex­plains why the com­bined fig­ure can be so mis­lead­ing — un­less you do 63.1 per cent of your driv­ing on the high­way.

Car brands also game the of­fi­cial test setup in tricky and com­pletely un­re­al­is­tic ways to de­liver ar­ti­fi­cially low num­bers for fuel use and CO2 emis­sions.

They run ex­tremely high tyre pres­sures in test cars, dis­con­nect the al­ter­na­tor, leave the air­con off, fill the en­gine with low fric­tion oil, blue­print the en­gine, set wheel align­ment for min­i­mum drag, test at high al­ti­tude and even re­move the spare and other equip­ment to trim weight, which mean ve­hi­cles can be tested with less drag on the “rolling road” in the lab­o­ra­tory.

If you live in a cap­i­tal city and drive in the usual ar­gy­bargy com­muter and week­end traf­fic, your car’s ac­tual fuel con­sump­tion will al­ways be higher than the of­fi­cial com­bined av­er­age — sig­nif­i­cantly so in the case of big, heavy cars and 4WDs such as the Land Rover.

The NRMA tests cars on set high­way and city routes around Syd­ney. Cars are filled at the start and fin­ish at the same petrol sta­tion, at the same pump (if pos­si­ble) and are filled to the brim, un­til fuel is vis­i­ble in the filler neck. The fuel fig­ures are recorded for both routes and av­er­aged for the test.

“The of­fi­cial Aus­tralian test doesn’t re­flect the fuel con­sump­tion that own­ers will get,” says NRMA en­gi­neer Jack Ha­ley. “The closer we can get to real world fig­ures, the bet­ter.”

The Aus­tralian Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion said last month that it will also do fuel and emis­sions tests on 30 pop­u­lar new cars un­der real world con­di­tions over the next 18 months.

“The Volk­swa­gen scan­dal clearly shows that reg­u­la­tors now need to be as­sess­ing ve­hi­cles in the real world, not just in a lab­o­ra­tory,” says AAA head Michael Bradley.

Un­til re­cently you could at least com­pare the over­all en­vi­ron­men­tal friend­li­ness of new cars sold in Aus­tralia, based on their emis­sions and fuel con­sump­tion, by check­ing their star rat­ings (based on a one to five scale with five be­ing the best) on the Green Ve­hi­cle Guide web­site.

You can’t do that now, be­cause the Depart­ment of In­fra­struc­ture has re­moved the star rat­ings from the GVG. ANCAP crash test re­sults were re­moved ear­lier.

A de­part­men­tal spokesman tells Carsguide that the GVG “was up­dated to have a stronger fo­cus on tailpipe CO2 emis­sions — the main con­trib­u­tor to cli­mate change”.

Ha­ley says re­mov­ing the star rat­ings is a back­ward step. “We op­posed it,” he says. “It’s just made it more dif­fi­cult for con­sumers to find the in­for­ma­tion they want.”

In a sub­mis­sion to the green guide re­view, the AAA cited its sur­vey in which 68 per cent of mo­torists sup­ported green star rat­ings. It says: “A sim­ple sys­tem is re­quired to pro­vide con­sumers with guid­ance and the AAA ad­vo­cates the re­ten­tion of a star rat­ing sys­tem, as star rat­ings are fa­mil­iar to con­sumers.”

Carsguide first broke this story in 2012, when as part of the GVG re­view the govern­ment pro­posed to re­move the star rat­ings on Jan­uary 1, 2013. This was largely due to pres­sure from the lo­cal car in­dus­try, no­tably Ford which was wor­ried about the Fal­con’s poor GVG per­for­mance (3.5 stars) af­fect­ing fleet sales, and by the in­dus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tive body, the Fed­eral Cham­ber of Au­to­mo­tive In­dus­tries.

Given that nei­ther the Fal­con, nor the FCAI, are par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant in the twi­light of lo­cal car man­u­fac­tur­ing, you have to won­der why the govern­ment has now de­cided to make it much more dif­fi­cult for con­sumers to com­pare the en­vi­ron­men­tal cre­den­tials of new cars by re­mov­ing the GVG star rat­ings.

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