US-style fines against car manufacturers for “falsely stating” fuel economy figures for vehicles are unlikely to happen in the UK, according to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
The organisation that represents car manufacturers in the UK sought to end speculation on the matter after Hyundai and Kia were fined in the US for misleading consumers with incorrect fuel economy data.
Reports suggest Hyundai and Kia voluntarily disclosed incorrect figures from fuel economy tests to the US Environmental Protection Agency. The car-makers said the incorrect data was the result of human error and not a deliberate deception.
Ford also admitted a similar incident in the US last summer and decided to compensate buyers of the C-Max hybrid after discovering the error.
But the fines meted out to Hyundai and Kia - $100 million (£64 million) and a further 4.47 million greenhouse gas credits equating to an additional $200 million (£127 million) - could set a precedent for Ford and other car companies audited for similar practices in the US.
Official fuel economy tests in Europe, often referred to as the New European Drive Cycle (NEDC), have become increasingly controversial as manufacturers become better at engineering cars to achieve favourable results and hit important targets for CO2 emissions.
Some automotive consumer publications have begun to record alternative fuel consumption figures to better manage the expectations of car buyers.
Dan Powell, managing editor of HonestJohn.co.uk, says: “Our website receives thousands of complaints about misleading fuel economy figures, which shows that many car owners are out of pocket when it comes to calculating real world fuel costs.”
As a result, it created Real MPG and has collated around 60,000 real world fuel figures over the past couple of years. They show that on average cars achieve 86% of their official MPG figure. What’s more, if you drill down into the figures, you’ll find that new cars are among the worst performers.
Powell added: “Clearly, consumers need to be better informed about real world fuel economy, but it’s also important to remember that a car’s fuel economy does vary considerably due to several factors - driving conditions, driving style - and no test will be absolute.”
The EU says it wants to replace the NEDC test with a much more stringent procedure, which will better reflect real-world fuel economy figures, by 2017 (Fleet News: May 24, 2012).
As a result, the United Nations Economics Commission for Europe (UNECE) has devised a new testing regime called the Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedures (WLTP).
It estimates that fuel consumption figures under the WLTP would be 10% to 20% higher than those under the current test cycle. The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) suggests it could be up to 30% higher (Fleet News: May 1, 2014). But there are key differences between how official tests are carried out now in Europe and in the US.
In the US, manufacturers carry out the process themselves, whereas with the NEDC in Europe, a government-appointed third party such as the VCA must witness each test independently.
The test must be undertaken in specific laboratory conditions on a rolling road, which replicates air resistance. There is also a standard drive cycle that is monitored by a computer programme, which invalidates the test if it is not performed within certain tolerances.
In addition, the vehicle is checked to ensure it has the same tyre pressures, fluid levels and components as it would have on the road. It would seem unlikely that legal action would be taken in Europe.
An SMMT spokesman said: “The NEDC is a standardised cycle for vehicle comparison purposes that cannot, and is not intended to, represent the infinite variations of the real world. Third parties such as the VCA witness the test, and the vehicles tested are governed by strict criteria.
“ SMMT accepts the need for a more suitable testing process, and is working closely with vehicle manufacturers and the relevant regulators to implement a new solution.”
“It is important that motorists continue to be made aware of how vehicle efficiency can be affected by driving style, load carried and vehicle maintenance, along with traffic, weather and road conditions.”