Fuel Economy Tests Highly Inaccurate, Report Claims

A fuel economy scandal is beginning in Europe

Using data from a 600,000-car analysis compiled by the nonprofit International Council on Clean Transportation, the Brussels based organization Transport & Environment said on Monday that Mercedes automobiles use 48% more fuel on average than their published statistics claim, with the discrepancy exceeding 50% on new A, C, and E Class models.

Wait! Before you start calling for the heads of Mercedes executives, read this: BMW’s 5 Series and the Peugeot 308 each used almost 50% more fuel than predicted by lab test results. Among all European automakers, the gap is now 40% compared to 8% in 2001. Other vehicles consuming close to 40% more fuel than official results included the VW Golf and the Renault Megane, the T&E report said. The difference between published specifications and actual fuel use costs a typical driver an additional $500 a year at the pump says Bloomberg Business.

“Like the air-pollution tests, the European system of testing cars to measure fuel economy and carbon dioxide emissions is utterly discredited,” Greg Archer, clean-vehicles manager at T&E, said a statement accompanying the study. “The Volkswagen scandal was just the tip of the iceberg.” Interestingly enough, the ICCT data from 2013 is what prompted the initial inquiry into Volkswagen diesel fuel economy. It was only while seeking to verify VW’s mileage claims that the emission cheating software was discovered. “Oh what tangled webs we weave, when first we practice to deceive,” wrote Shakespeare.

Automakers, predictably, are shocked, SHOCKED(!!) to discover there are such large discrepancies, and immediately began laying the blame at the feet of the regulators. Mercedes said in a statement that since T&E doesn’t publish test conditions, “it’s not possible to properly examine” the results. “Mercedes-Benz strongly supports the introduction of the so-called worldwide harmonized light-vehicles test procedure, so that test results from the lab and real road driving are closer together,” said Matthias Brock, a spokesman at Mercedes headquarters in Stuttgart.

“It’s not news that there are differences between lab tests and real-world results,” said Michael Rebstock, a spokesman for BMW, who said his company “is adhering to the rules and regulations.” Going on: “We also support efforts to reform regulation in the EU designed to bring results closer in line with real-world driving conditions.” Now the United Nations is getting involved in the effort to rationalize the rules and regulations that pertain to carmakers and compliance testing around the globe.

None of this should come as any surprise to car enthusiasts. We reported 18 months ago on the extraordinary measures carmakers take to boost their fuel economy ratings. They do things like tape all the seams between body panels to reduce turbulence, fit bald tires inflated rock hard to reduce rolling resistance, and install special brakes that retract the brake pads to eliminate any friction with the brake discs. The result is, the cars used for economy testing are unsafe for operation on public roads.

For decades, regulators and highway safety officials have relied on manufacturers to report on economy and emissions tests. That’s about as effective as setting the fox to guard the hen house. Those same administrators who are now screaming the loudest about the big bad car manufacturers deserve a healthy dollop of responsibility for the mess they have created by promulgating stupid policies. There is plenty of blame to go around for everyone involved.

Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.