27 March, 2019

WLTP loophole closed by European Commission

The European Commission has tightened the WLTP regime for new cars after claims that manufacturers were cheating tests to increase CO2 levels.

The Commission has uncovered that carmakers were turning on functions during tests that increased emissions in the run-up to the introduction of the WLTP tests on 1 September last year, according to lobby group Transport and Environment.

By switching these functions off during the procedure, vehicles would burn more fuel and emissions would increase. Such tactics included turning off start/stop, adjusting gearshift patterns and using Sport mode instead of Eco mode.

By artificially increasing their CO2 emissions now, automakers hoped to weaken future reduction targets. The manipulation also partly explains why there is a huge disparity in average emissions between different automakers, the lobby group said.

The main element affecting the level of 2021 emissions is the ratio between manufacturers’ average WLTP emissions and average NEDC emissions in 2020. This means that an increase of the average WLTP emissions in 2020 relative to NEDC would lead to a higher 2021 target, thus increasing the starting point for calculating future targets and undermining the effectiveness of emissions reduction.

CO2 emissions increased when homologation tests in Europe switched to WLTP from the former NEDC procedure. The range of the increases was between 1% to 81% depending on the manufacturer, according to Transport and Environment. It did not name any brands in its findings.

Manufacturers are under increased pressure to find loopholes in the testing system as the EU introduces tougher CO2 reduction targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions. By exploiting the loophole, they would have an easier target to achieve when 2025 and 2030 reductions are set. 

More robust regulations

The updated regulation, which came into force in February, requires automakers to switch on all emissions-saving technology, such as the stop-start function, and use the same driver-selectable modes for each model tested - Eco mode instead of Sport mode for example.

ACEA, the body representing automakers selling cars in Europe, welcomed the rule tightening. The changes make the WLTP testing procedure ‘even more robust and prevent any test manipulation,’ the body said in a statement.

The Commission was aware of potential manipulation in 2018. In a paper posted by Transport and Environment, it states that: ‘The average of the specific emissions targets for manufacturers in 2021 under WLTP is the starting point for calculating the 2025 and 2030 targets.

‘There is a clear risk of an artificial increase of the WLTP emissions in 2020 because of manufacturers declaring too high WLTP values and changes made to the vehicle configuration for the WLTP compared to the NEDC test.’