How and why Mercedes fakes the EU fuel consumption tests

Mercedes___LogoRemember the time you bought a new car. You normally visited it at the showroom, took it for a test drive, read the fuel consumption. Those three factors, together of course with the price of the vehicle, formed your purchase decision and selection between competition. Well, it seems that you can count on the showroom visit and test drive but certainly not on the consumption brochure you were given by the sales person.

According to the report by the independent American lobby group, Transport and Environment, there is more about car fuel consumption that meets the eye. The organisation published a report last week that casts light on the massive gap between fuel consumption on the papers and how this is felt in your pocket while you are filling the tank in real life. This “expensive” difference has widened significantly from 8% in 2001 to 31% for private motorists in 2013 and 43% for company car drivers. This is translated to 500 € per year more fuel expenses for the average European driver or else a bit less than 6,000 € during the lifetime of the car. Furthermore, this discrepancy is also estimated to emit to the environment some 1.5 billion tons of Co2 more.

Mercedes No1 in cheating on the EU tests

Somehow this fuel consumption information on the brochures is common knowledge for the average driver that is not 100% what their vehicles will need in real world. But most of us we naively believe, or not so naively are made to believe, that this is due to unavoidable differences between lab conditions and driving in a chaotic capital like Paris. The report by Transport and Environment, however, reveals that those “unavoidable differences” are not unavoidable finally but are manipulated by car companies to avoid taxes.

Mercedes is the champion in that according to this study. And it is not that only the German giant is faking its consumptions, but pretty much all the players in the market. The main reason, besides the eternal drive of companies to cut costs and increase profits, is the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC). It appears that this “simulation test” is not so new finally, since it is in function since the1990s. Car companies are able to manipulate easily this test just like a first year engineer student could do it as well.

So, Mercedes, what it does is first to use the ‘right’ prototype for the tests. Even though it has the star in the front and looks like your new A class, at the end of the day it is not. The “prototype” will have all the panel gaps covered, its tyres overinflated to the point you think it will start flying like a balloon, the breaks to be loose to be able to avoid excessive fuel consumption, the spare wheel, mats and all that is extractable to be removed, and also the gearbox and other parts to be extremely thin and lubricated. Does this thing sound like what you signed up for when you gave your order to the car dealer?

On top of that, there are even companies that can fake the test for you. Those, apart from using a prototype that is nowhere close to your car on the streets, they also implement another well known technique, called cycle-beating. This one is known as a technique used to cheat air pollution tests. You see, companies will always keep looking for ways to cheat a test that can save them from taxes or cuts costs. Of course, only when they are allowed to do so, by a system full of loopholes. According to this cycle-beating, during the Energy Control Test (ECU) the engine of the vehicle is ‘optimised’. This means that it is not given full power but on the contrary engine power is distributed in a way that makes your Mercedes look like a peaceful little cat.

The new test and the German lobby

“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”, he continued.

The New Global Test that Mr Archer is referring to above, so called World Light Duty Test Cycle (WLTC), is planned to fill the loopholes of NEDC that car companies for years were exploiting. It is expected to be more rigid and unbiased and for sure much more accurate. That means that companies will have to say goodbye to the tax benefits they used to enjoy for low consumption cars and also that the drivers will have to budget their wallet better.

5 years more party please

However, you cannot take away candies from a kid so easily. The automotive industry has been ‘spoiled’ by the existing easy to cheat tests and has naturally enjoyed a good wealth from that. More so, they put money in their lobby groups in Brussels to try to keep the party going until 2022. Can they really do that? To push back a planned EU legislation, against the interests of the environment and the citizen, just to make more profit? Sure they can.

Let’s not forget here the principles of how Brussels is run and particularly the recent examples where we all witnessed a direct involvement of the automotive lobby in the policy-making of Europe? Does it sound scary enough? Have a read at a previous Sting of last year, where it is reported how the German car lobby with the support of the German Chancellor, Mrs Merkel, was able to remove from the agenda of an EU Council the Co2 emissions reduction proposal topic. It is about the 95 Co2 g/km 2020 EU goal that was never discussed on that Council on 27-28 June 2013, because of some ‘phone calls’.

All in all, Mercedes, Ford or BMW, while creating a lot of jobs and wealth in Europe, they are also misleading us about their fuel consumption. Is this the price to pay for? It can be, but no European citizen should accept it. 2017 is not so far away now. It is interesting to see if the party will go on for 5 more years or the Juncker Commission is able to spoil it on time.

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