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Fiat 500X

Fiat joins car emissions row after ‘pollution timer’ found

Fiat 500XSome Fiat diesel models produce higher levels of exhaust pollution if they run for longer than 22 minutes, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reports testers have discovered.

The official NEDC fuel economy and emissions test runs for around 20 minutes.

This could indicate that Fiat is using software to pass official emissions tests without using expensive aftermarket exhaust filters. Authorities are now investigating, and are carrying out further tests on Fiat models.

Fiat has so far declined to comment.

German test body the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KPA) made the discovery during testing following the Volkswagen ‘defeat device’ scandal, although it added this system is not necessarily illegal.

Car manufacturers are allowed to alter emissions management systems to protect the engine from damage – it’s a so-called ‘thermal window’ that limits the operation of exhaust filters.

The use of such systems helps improve performance and extent service intervals, although it’s a practice that both regulators and environmental groups have criticised. Many are now calling for clarification at an European level on how such systems can be used.

Fiat 500X

Fiat joins car emissions row after 'pollution timer’ found

Fiat 500XSome Fiat diesel models produce higher levels of exhaust pollution if they run for longer than 22 minutes, German newspaper Bild am Sonntag reports testers have discovered.

The official NEDC fuel economy and emissions test runs for around 20 minutes.

This could indicate that Fiat is using software to pass official emissions tests without using expensive aftermarket exhaust filters. Authorities are now investigating, and are carrying out further tests on Fiat models.

Fiat has so far declined to comment.

German test body the Federal Motor Transport Authority (KPA) made the discovery during testing following the Volkswagen ‘defeat device’ scandal, although it added this system is not necessarily illegal.

Car manufacturers are allowed to alter emissions management systems to protect the engine from damage – it’s a so-called ‘thermal window’ that limits the operation of exhaust filters.

The use of such systems helps improve performance and extent service intervals, although it’s a practice that both regulators and environmental groups have criticised. Many are now calling for clarification at an European level on how such systems can be used.

Volkswagen Group

Volkswagen loses £1.4 billion in 2015 due to emissions scandal

Volkswagen GroupThe dieselgate emissions crisis has led the normally-profitable Volkswagen Group crashing into a significant loss for the 2015 financial year: the company has revealed a massive operating loss of €4.1 billion – that’s £3.2 billion.

A massive €16.2 billion write-down hit due to the emissions crisis has caused the huge turnaround in Volkswagen Group finances.

Even a strong result from its Chinese operations could not stop the firm recording a consolidated post-tax loss of €1.4 billion (£1.1 billion).

The full scale of the loss is revealed by results from the 2014 financial year: Volkswagen AG then posted an operating profit of €12.7 billion.

In other words, the emissions crisis has cost it €16.9 billion in a single financial year.

This is despite Volkswagen Group being profitable: sales profits were actually up 5.4% to €213 billion.

It’s of course the special write-downs totalling €16.9 billion that cost it dearly: the €16.2 billion emissions-related write-down is related to fixing items such as technical modifications to customer cars and global legal risks.

This write-down is up significantly on Volkswagen’s earlier €6.7 billion allowance to cover the dieselgate emissions scandal.

“The Volkswagen Group’s operations are in great shape, as the figures before special items for the past fiscal year clearly show,” said a surprisingly upbeat Volkswagen AG chairman Matthias Müller. “Were it not for the sizeable provisions we made for all repercussions of the emissions issue that are now quantifiable, we would be reporting on yet another successful year overall.

“The current crisis – as the figures presented today also reveal – is having a huge impact on Volkswagen’s financial position. Yet we have the firm intention and the means to handle the difficult situation we are in using our own resources,” Müller added.

The holding company of Porsche first revealed the financial details: it holds a 30.8% stake in Volkswagen AG so is directly affected by the VW results. Porsche SE’s pre-tax loss is expected to be €456 million; tax refunds will cut this to €273 million.

Ironically though, Porsche SE is likely still to be profitable in the 2015 financial year, reporting gains of around €870 million – courtesy of dividends received from Volkswagen AG for the 2014 financial year.

Emissions testing

German carmakers ordered to recall cars for emissions fix

Emissions testingThe German government has instructed Daimler, Opel and Volkswagen Group to recall 630,000 cars so emissions systems can be adjusted to remove temperature-dependant devices, according to reports in Bild newspaper.

German government engineers have been probing car manufacturers since the Volkswagen defeat device emissions crisis emerged in September. 56 models have been tested.

The device in question here is a system that only engages the particulate filter at certain temperatures. Daimler is one car maker that’s admitted such a device is fitted – insisting it’s a perfectly legal system designed to protect the engine when cold.

They may be legal, Stefan Bratzel from the Centre of Automotive Management at Germany’s University of Applied Sciences said, but they’re not legitimate. It “shines a negative light on the industry as a whole,” he told Bloomberg. “This isn’t a good sign.”

The NEDC fuel economy and emissions test cycle is conducted from a cold start, meaning the system would be active for at least part of it while the engine warmed up.

Experts did, however, stress that the only unquestionably illegal ‘defeat device’ found to date is that on Volkswagen diesel cars. This system could sense when the engine was being put through an official test cycle and emissions controls were adjusted to help it pass strict NOx limits without expensive aftertreatment tech.

Volkswagen Passat diesel

Volkswagen to buy back half a million dieselgate cars

Volkswagen Passat dieselVolkswagen will offer to buy back diesel cars fitted with defeat device emissions cheat software as part of a deal agreed in principal with the US authorities.

The firm has reached the agreement with the US Department of Justice (DOJ), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Californian Air Resources Board (CARB). The deal is expected to be made binding in the next few weeks.

The final terms of the deal have not been revealed – they’re still subject to negotiations with US authorities – but it is already believed to be significantly more costly to Volkswagen than the firm initially predicted when news of the ‘dieselgate’ defeat device scandal first emerged.

The initial €6.7 billion Volkswagen set aside has already risen to €15 billion.

“Volkswagen is committed to earning back the trust of its customers, dealers, regulators and the American public,” it said in a brief statement.

“These agreements in principal are an important step on the road to making things right.”

Mercedes-Benz E 250 BLUETEC

Daimler asked to ‘review exhaust emissions certification’ by US authorities

Mercedes-Benz E 250 BLUETECDaimler, parent of Mercedes-Benz, is to review how it certifies and administers exhaust emissions in the United States following a request by the US Department of Justice.

The request, which is subject to strict confidentiality, will see Daimler AG conduct an internal investigation in association with the Department of Justice.

The firm says it will “investigate possible indications of irregularities and of course take all necessary actions”.

The matter is believed to be related to class actions taken out in February by Mercedes-Benz owners in the US. Owners of Bluetec diesel models allege that pollution control technology turns off at cooler temperatures, resulting in NOx emissions far higher than those stated in the US Clean Air Act.

Daimler insists “the class actions are considered to be without merit and Daimler will defend itself against them with all available legal means”.

The surprise news from Daimler follows Volkswagen’s confirmation it will offer to buy back almost half a million US diesel cars as part of an agreement with authorities to settle the ‘dieselgate’ issue.

It has also since emerged that Mitsubishi offices in Japan were raided by Japanese officials investigating the firm’s admission of ‘misconduct’ in testing fuel economy for some of its city car models.

EQUA Air Quality Index Audi A3

New EQUA ‘NCAP for NOx emissions’ test ranks real-world car pollution

EQUA Air Quality Index Audi A3Emissions Analytics has launched the first fully independent index-based NOx emissions standard for cars and the UK firm claims the new EQUA Index provides a level playing field “to help clear the confusion over real world NOx emissions”.

The new EQUA Air Quality Index has been developed from Emissions Analytics’ existing real-world car economy test. Purely assessing NOx (nitrogen oxide) emissions, it gives a simple score from A to H for all cars tested.

An A rating means a car meets current NOx limits for diesel and petrol cars: an H rating is worse than even the very oldest Euro emissions standard – equivalent to 12 times the current Euro 6 limit. The ratings are explained in full below.

Alarmingly, more than 50 older Euro 5 diesels scored an ultra-dirty H rating, along with three current-standard Euro 6 cars – and a supposedly-green diesel-hybrid model, the Peugeot 3008 Hybrid4, was also given a worst-possible H rating.

The EQUA Air Quality Index has been launched with ratings for 440 vehicles and the firm has vowed to test 200-400 new cars each year to ensure the rankings are as up-to-date as possible.

> Search the EQUA Index database

Nick Molden, CEO and founder of Emissions Analytics, said: “There’s a great deal of confusion among car buyers on the subject of pollutant emissions, but we’re able to deliver impartial and precise information to help them buy better.

“We’re also looking forward to working with the industry as a whole to highlight the best vehicles available.”

EQUA Air Quality Index: the winners and losers

Volkswagen Group cars are the big winner of the EQUA Air Quality Index tests. A batch of its latest Euro 6 diesels have been tested – and of the six cars assessed, all six have achieved the very cleanest A-rating, suggesting tailpipe NOx emissions are exactly what Volkswagen claims in real-world use.

Proof that no defeat devices are active on the latest models..?

The BMW 3 Series also achieved an A-rating for real-world Euro 6 diesel emissions – the only other Euro 6 diesel to do so: of the 62 latest-spec cars tested, three scored B-ratings, 9 were rated C, 13 were rated D, a worrying 20 were rated E, five scored F, two G and three the very worst H rating.

These models were the Fiat 500X 1.6-litre diesel SsangYong Korando 2.2-litre diesel, plus the 2013 Audi A8 3.0-litre diesel that’s no longer on sale (an indication that defeat device systems could be active on in-market Volkswagen Group cars?).

In contrast, all but four of the 45 Euro 6 petrol cars tested were rated A, suggesting the latest diesel models in particular have an issue with hitting Euro 6 NOx targets in real world use. All diesels, that is, except Volkswagen Group diesels…

Every single Euro 6 hybrid vehicle also achieved an A-rating.

As for Euro 5 diesels (which were applicable for new cars in showrooms up until September 2014 for newly-launched models and September 2015 for existing on-sale in-market motors), things are far worse.

Not a single Euro 5 diesel car scored an A-rating, or a B-rating: the best model was the Skoda Octavia 1.6-litre TDI, with a C-rating. Then it was five D-rated cars (proving Euro 5 cars can only meet Euro 4 limits), followed by a staggering number of E, F, G and H-rated cars.

Such H-rated models include best-sellers such as the BMW 1 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class, Nissan Qashqai, Renault Clio, Vauxhall Corsa and, yes, the 1.6-litre Volkswagen Passat.

However, all but eight of more than 100 older Euro 5 petrol cars tested failed to score the very lowest A-rating for NOx emissions. Does this mean air quality campaigners are right to focus on getting older diesel models off Britain’s roads?

EQUA Air Quality Index table

MPs call for Low Emission Zones in cities

EU agrees to cut real-world car emissions – but green groups are not happy

MPs call for Low Emission Zones in citiesThe European Parliament has voted not to block the introduction of Real Driving Emissions testing from 2017, meaning that new cars will be tested for emissions such as NOx in real life conditions, not in regulated labs.

And who was trying to block this apparent good move for air quality? Not the car makers, but MEPs – because they think the exemptions car makers have been granted are too generous.

Huh?

In 2007, it was agreed that European regulations would demand cars emit no more than 80mg/km of NOx under the Euro 6 limit currently in force.

Vehicles are homologated in laboratory conditions to prove that they meet this limit, as part of the NEDC fuel consumption test.

However, on-road testing has found that many vehicles exceed this NOx limit in real world use, sometimes by 4-500% or more. The Real Driving Emissions test – RDE – has been under development for several years to try and overcome this.

And then came dieselgate

The Volkswagen emissions scandal accelerated its rollout: it was agreed in October 2015 that it would come into force from 2017 – first for all newly-introduced models, and then for all new cars sold.

There’s a ‘but’, though. Because car makers were basing their developments on the existing lab test – which critics argue is easier to fool (indeed, this is exactly what Volkswagen’s ‘dieselgate’ cheat was based upon) – they sought an exemption that would relax the limits for a couple of years.

They won one.

In September 2017, new models to market would be allowed to emit up to 2.1 times (110%) the 80mg/km limit, which would extend to all cars on sale by September 2019.

This discrepancy would be reduced to 1.5 times (50%) by January 2020 for new models, and by January 2021 for all cars sold. This leniency would remain in place going forward – to account for margins of error in the testing kit (called Portable Emissions Measurement Systems, or PEMS).

A date when the variance from the norm will become zero – meaning vehicles would have to emit the 80mg/km limit set back in 2007 – has not yet been agreed.

‘Good day for dirty deals’?

Still with us? Good – because today’s vote was one of the final hurdles against the introduction of this. MEPs were trying to block the introduction of RDE because they argue these exemptions are too kind on car makers – particularly the 50% margin of error. They say the actual margin of error is more like 20%.

“Today was a good day for dirty deals but a bad day for cleaner air,” said Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder.

However, the RAC’s Steve Gooding said the vote was “a step in the right direction” as it would cut NOx from today’s spiralling emissions to two times the limit, and then 1.5 times – without delay.

A rejection of the decision already made by EU member states “would delay improvements to air quality, particularly in cities,” said European automotive industry body the ACEA.

The car makers say…

RDE will introduce a completely new testing method for vehicles on the road. Europe is the first and only region in the world to introduce such a system, which will lead to major progress in improving air quality.

While the current proposal takes into account error margins in the new measuring equipment, vehicle manufacturers will have to aim well below the legal limit to ensure compliance. Moreover, the error margin will be reviewed and, as the equipment improves in precision, the conformity factor will be tightened.

– ACEA

The environmental campaigners say…

The European Parliament today caved in to pressure from car-producing countries and agreed to weaken the limits for nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions from new diesel cars. The effective new ‘Euro 6’ limit, 168mg of NOx per km, is more than double that agreed in 2007 (80mg/km). From 2020, all new cars will still be allowed to emit 120mg/km.

Despite public outcry, EU governments have pressured national MEPs to accept the weakening of the legal limits that was agreed via the backdoor of comitology in October of last year. The decision will undermine efforts to clean up Europe’s air and improve public health.

– Transport & Environment

What do you think of today’s vote? Share your thoughts of which side you’re on below…

MPG Marathon 2015

Q&A: how do you outperform the official mpg test?

MPG Marathon 2015The Volkswagen emissions scandal has, rightly or wrongly, focused attention on the official fuel economy and CO2 figures released by car manufacturers: many drivers find they’re optimistic at best, blatant lies at worst.

But this week, we proved that you CAN achieve the official combined fuel consumption figure in real world driving: better still, we BEAT it by a few per cent for good measure.

Not only that, THREE drivers returned more than 100mpg, beating their cars’ official claimed fuel consumption by up to 25%!

So let’s look into how we did it and offer some tips on how you can try to do it too…

You beat the official combined mpg figure then, huh?

We did, in an Audi TT TDI.

Hold on, doesn’t that use the scandal-riddled VW Group 2.0-litre TDI engine? You monsters!

Actually, it uses the Euro 6 version of the under-fire motor, so is (officially) almost as clean as can be. Breathe easy, folks.

Fair enough. So what does Audi say you should be getting?

The official combined economy figure is 62.8mpg. Not bad for a cool-looking sports car. In fact, seemingly rather unbelievable for a cool-looking sports car, we grant you.

Did you pack a toolkit to take the wipers off and some tape to seal up all the panel gaps?

Ah, all that’s a myth, the SMMT has said this week. Car manufacturers don’t get up to dirty tricks like that to make their cars look clean.

OK, but how real world is this test you entered?

The MPG Marathon is pretty real-world. It’s run over 370 miles and two days on a random mix of A-roads, B-roads, motorways and city centres. Organisers list waypoints and locations we have to visit: it’s up to entrants to choose the routes they take.

So you just crawl everywhere at 25mph and be done with it?

Speed limits have to be kept up! Average speeds must be 30mph or above: add in the fact we have to drive through city centres and the like, and it’s a more realistic challenge than you may think.

How did you do in the MPG Marathon then?

We drove an Audi TT TDI and averaged nearly 65mpg. The official average is 62.8mpg. So we beat the official average by a good few per cent, despite intentionally driving as normally as we could.

What’s the trick to achieving the official fuel consumption figure?

Looking ahead. If you need to know one thing about eco driving, it’s this. Absorb the road, its challenges, the gaps in the traffic, the potential to lift off and coast rather than using the brakes, the chances to keep rolling through traffic lights as they change green rather than having to stop and start again while they change from red.

Eco driving is all about planning ahead rather than simply driving slowly. Try doing this, and really think about and concentrate on your driving as you do it, and you’ll be amazed at how your fuel economy will improve.

Surely that’s not it?

Of course, you can’t just do that if you want to average the most miles to the gallon. Changing up a gear early will help; today’s cars have so much drive, it’s surprising at how few revs are needed to keep pace with traffic. Letting the stop-start system do its work will save fuel, as will simply taking things ultra-steady when you first start the car up in the morning (when it’s cold, it’s at it’s least fuel-efficient…).

Bloke down the pub says that to save fuel, you must drive up hills no faster than 15mph

Bloke down the pub is wrong. The best way to tackle hills is to use momentum. As you approach it, you may even want to speed up a little, to give yourself a bit more speed – then, be easy on the accelerator as you let this energy take you up, using just enough gas to keep the speed up. Even if you drive up at 15mph, you’re still using fuel, and won’t have the ‘free’ advantage of momentum.

Think how you push a wheelbarrow up a hill – which uses less of your energy; taking a run up or slowly pushing it up?

Weren’t you at your wit’s end after two days of driving like that?

Surprisingly, we were rather chilled by the end of it, and certainly didn’t feel the need to rush out and rev wildly up the road in frustration. We’d made good progress, we’d been smooth and satisfying, we hadn’t ever felt like we were a rolling road block facing a never-ending dreary eternity behind the wheel.

I don’t believe you.

Honest. It’s not so much skill, driving economically, as a mindset. Look ahead, be smooth and steady, think smart, keep everything flowing. It’s a mindset we found rather fulfilling.