New tougher car emissions testing from 1 September: what will it mean for road tax, fleets and consumers?

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Author: | Updated: 29 Aug 2017 04:35

Stringent new emission regulations will be introduced across Europe from 1 September, following concerns that the ageing New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) doesn’t accurately reflect real-world levels  of pollution and fuel economy figures.

Tough new emissions tests will now see cars tested on the road.

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Its replacement comes in the form of the freshly devised Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP), which will measure on-road levels of CO2, NOx and NO2 emissions, as well as fuel consumption/range of electric and hybrid drivetrains.

Why is it being adopted and how does it differ from the NEDC?

The current NEDC test procedure was highly criticised in the wake of Volkswagen’s diesel scandal due to the fact it does not take into account true on-road emissions. Designed in the 1980s, it is a lab-based test and uses a rolling road to gather data.

Measuring individual derivatives will become the norm too, with the new test taking into account a vehicle’s mass (inc. optional equipment), tyre rolling resistance class and aerodynamics.

NEDC testing can only measure emissions based on theoretical driving experiences. Comparatively, the new WLTP is a longer cycle takes place on real roads –  that will represent emission output and economy levels much more effectively.

NEDC vs WLTP

WLTP vs NEDC: how they differ

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In the UK, a government programme in 2016 found some diesels were emitting six times more nitrogen oxide in real-world conditions than in the lab. WLTP will allow slightly higher limits than the current lab tests, but car makers will still have to aim to effectively reduce emissions by two thirds.

WLTP will consist of four parts rather than NEDC’s current two. A wider range of average speeds will be used: low, medium, high and extra high. This it will make measuring real-world economy for certain alternatively fuelled vehicles (e.g. plug-in hybrids) more accurate too.

WLTP will introduce more realistic testing conditions.

NEDC to WLTP transition

According to Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership, manufacturers and the government’s Vehicle Certification Agency are expected to start showing WLTP car performance figures from late 2017, as new models are approved.

Cars tested under WLTP will still have NEDC C02 and fuel consumption values reported until 2020. Manufacturers must continue to use the NEDC CO2 figure to report against European CO2 emission fleet average targets (which were set against NEDC) for new cars until the complete switch to WLTP.

From 1 September 2017 cars approved under WLTP will continue to be taxed against the NEDC emission value, so there is no change to the CO2-based taxation systems in the short term. This includes Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and Benefit in Kind (BiK), commonly known as road tax and company car tax. But there is a lack of clarity beyond that.

Fleet operators call for clarity

The new test could make the process of quoting prices for vehicles more complicated because optional extras and certain features will result in lots of different CO2 measures. As such, fleet operators have called for government clarity on what it will mean for VED and BiK rates.

The British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association also says there is uncertainty surrounding how the new data will be shared between manufacturers and leasing companies, and is currently advising its members on what the new tests will mean for the wider fleet industry.

BVRLA director of member services Nora Leggett said: “The WLTP will have a big impact on our members. We want to work with them and their supply chain partners to help ensure a smooth transition that has no negative impact on customer service”.

Chairman of the Association of Car Fleet Operators said: “We know WLTP is coming and that it will ultimately replace the NEDC regime. However, as yet we have no clarity from HMRC as to the timescale for when WLTP CO2 figures will be used as the basis for all vehicle taxation, including company car BiK tax.”

What will it mean for UK car consumers?

We reported last month that the new emission testing could change what options are available on some cars. In what will be a first for the industry, each vehicle derivative will be given its own CO2 and emission figures – something often affected by weight.

As such, options that dramatically increase weight could push certain derivatives into higher tax bands, despite having exactly the same powertrain as a car without the options fitted. Options most at risk include panoramic sunroofs, heated seats and large alloy wheels.

Options like heated seats could be affected by the new WLTP regulations.

It’s possible manufacturers will start to limit the amount of individual extras offered for certain models, although it’s more likely they will create new options packs, although cars fitted with them could be subject to a higher VED rate.

A spokesperson for the European Automobile Manufacturers Association said: “If governments simply apply the existing CO2-tax scheme to the new WLTP values, they will effectively introduce a new car type to the market after September.”

Will it result in lower CO2 targets and better fuel economy?

Not directly, although more rigorous and realistic tests should put an end to certain manufacturers' inaccurate MPG claims, some of which are highly inaccurate under the current NEDC standards – particularly regarding hybrid and plug-in hybrids.

The EU’s current target is for all new cars to emit a maximum of 95g/km of CO2 by 2021 – a target based on outgoing NEDC standards. Things will change under WLTP cycle, but there will be a transition period up to 2020 to allow legislators to adjust targets of “comparable stringency” if needed.

What do you think of the new system? Is it the right thing to do to reduce harmful emissions? Let us know in the comments.

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