The worst fuel data ma­nip­u­la­tor is…

Lesotho Times - - Motoring -

BRUSSELS — We all know that it’s almost im­pos­si­ble to match the ad­ver­tised ‘of­fi­cial’ EU fu­el­con­sump­tion fig­ures pub­li­cised by man­u­fac­tur­ers, any­where out­side a test track.

But now the 2014 Mind the Gap re­port — an an­nual anal­y­sis of real-world fuel con­sump­tion by real driv­ers in real cars, com­pared to the frankly un­re­al­is­tic New Euro­pean Driv­ing Cy­cle fig­ures — has shown that the gap men­tioned in its ti­tle is grow­ing.

Mind the Gap is com­mis­sioned by in­de­pen­dent lob­by­ing group Trans­port and En­vi­ron­ment, a non­govern­ment or­gan­i­sa­tion that cam­paigns for mean­ing­ful change in EU leg­is­la­tion that will ac­tu­ally make a dif­fer­ence in the amount of car­bon diox­ide be­ing pumped into the sky.

And guess which Euro­pean pre­mium car­maker it names as the worst ma­nip­u­la­tor of test re­sults? If your new Mercedes slurps 40 per­cent more fuel than the brochure prom­ises, it says, it’s not the fault of your heavy right foot — it’s just that Mercedes-benz is the cur­rent cham­pion at ma­nip­u­lat­ing the way cars are tested, pro­duc­ing of­fi­cial fuel-con­sump­tion fig­ures that sim­ply can’t be matched in real-world driv­ing.

The av­er­age gap be­tween the car­mak­ers’ claims and real-world fuel con­sump­tion, across all car brands, has widened from eight per­cent in 2001 to 31 per­cent in 2013 for pri­vate own­ers and to a hor­ri­fy­ing 43 per­cent for company cars. The cost? For the typ­i­cal pri­vate owner in Europe, who ac­tu­ally has to pay for his fuel, about €500 (M7000) ex­tra a year.

But does that mean that the spec­tac­u­lar gains in fuel-ef­fi­ciency ad­ver­tised by new mod­els since the cur­rent EU reg­u­la­tions were adopted in 2008 are just so much hot air? In a word, yes.

Tricks of the trade

There are com­pa­nies ded­i­cated to op­ti­mis­ing test re­sults, it says, us­ing pur­pose-built pro­to­type mod­els with spe­cially-mapped ECU’S that can de­tect not only when a test is be­ing car­ried out, but which leg of the cy­cle the car is on at any given mo­ment, and run the en­gine as lean as it can get away with un­der those spe­cific cir­cum­stances — a tech­nique known as ‘cy­cle beat­ing’ that was first used to cheat tests for air pol­lu­tion.

They also tape over all the panel gaps and shut lines in the body, in­clud­ing around the doors, bon­net, grille and boot, over­in­flate the tyres un­til they squeak, ad­just the brakes so that the pads sit well back from the discs when not in use (yes, Cyril, that means you have to pump the brakes a cou­ple of times be­fore they will work, but who cares, there’s no brak­ing in­volved in the NEDC test).

They re­set the camber, cas­tor and toe-in to zero, fill the sump, gear­box and dif­fer­en­tial with su­per-thin, low-foam­ing lu­bri­cants, and re­duce the weight of the test car by ditch­ing the spare wheel, tools, floor mats and even the owner’s man­ual!

They also test the cars at the high­est per­mit­ted al­ti­tude, at the high­est per­mit­ted tem­per­a­ture, and on su­per-smooth test tracks.

The NEDC test al­lows for a max­i­mum slope of 1.5 per­cent in any di­rec­tion — so ev­ery NEDC test track slopes ex­actly 1.5 per­cent down­hill.

A new more re­al­is­tic and ro­bust global test, the World­wide har­monised Light ve­hi­cles Test Pro­ce­dure, is sched­uled to be in­tro­duced in 2017, but EU gov­ern­ments are de­lay­ing con­firm­ing the date, un­der pres­sure from car­mak­ers that want to carry on ex­ploit­ing the loop­holes in the NEDC un­til at least 2022.

“Driv­ers will carry the cost”

“The gap be­tween real-world fuel con­sump­tion and dis­torted of­fi­cial test re­sults has be­come a chasm,” said Trans­port and En­vi­ron­ment clean ve­hi­cles man­ager Greg Archer.

“Un­less Europe in­tro­duces the new global test in 2017 as planned, car­mak­ers will con­tinue to cheat laws de­signed to im­prove fuel ef­fi­ciency and emis­sions re­duc­tions - and driv­ers will carry the cost.”

Au­thor­i­ties in the United States have been far more ef­fec­tive in iden­ti­fy­ing car­mak­ers un­fairly dis­tort­ing tests. Hyundai and Ford have been made to re­im­burse cus­tomers for in­cor­rect fuel econ­omy fig­ures while MercedesBenz and BMW have also been re­cently caught and are await­ing penal­ties to be im­posed.

Checks on pro­duc­tion cars by the in­de­pen­dent US Envi r o n - men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency have iden- ti­fied the anom­alies, un­like the to­tally in­ef­fec­tive sys­tem in Europe.

“The US has shown how to pro­vide ac­cu­rate con­sumer in­for­ma­tion and limit the abuse of of­fi­cial tests by car­mak­ers through ef­fec­tive mar­ket surveil­lance by an in­de­pen­dent reg­u­la­tor,” said Archer.

“But the EU sys­tem still al­lows car­mak­ers to pay test­ing au­thor­i­ties to test pro­to­types in their own lab­o­ra­to­ries us­ing an ob­so­lete test. The re­sults are dis­torted fuel econ­omy fig­ures, more cli­mate-chang­ing emis­sions and air pol­lu­tion.” — iol

Mercedes-benz is the cur­rent cham­pion at ma­nip­u­lat­ing the way cars are tested

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