Today all the masks have fallen off, and we have seen what each country is asking for and how it justifies its position. In part, some of the results were predictable, but on the other hand, it makes you blush.
Let's go to the source of the issue: from 2017 the new type approval cycle will be introduced, the WLTC, which we told you about here, and which is much more demanding than the current cycle. The current NEDC allows manufacturers to program their control units to emit and consume little at low throttle loads, as this is the only part of the engine's use that is certified, while allowing the car to emit and consume "whatever it wants" when accelerating hard. It is because of this cycle that the reality ends up deviating the real consumption and emissions by up to two liters of fuel per 100 kilometers and between 150% and 400% more pollutants respectively. And all in a completely legal way, with the exception of "the smart guys from VAG", who not only took advantage of the cycle, but also installed control units with illegal code.
The thing is that the WLTC is so demanding that the deviation between homologated and real emissions and consumption will disappear. And that is a big problem for manufacturers. Their cars that now meet Euro6 standards, applying the new type-approval cycle will no longer do so.
We are not talking about complete cases, but about the entire European car industry, which will need a complete rethink, new engines, new hybrid systems, new control unit programming... And all for the benefit of the health of each and every European. In exchange, there will be a significant cost for car companies, while traditional products will lose performance, especially diesel engines.
This reality is not new. It does not come after #dieselgate, but has been programmed for years. But manufacturers, through ACEA, the association of European automakers, as well as lobbying local governments, were hoping to get their hands on that regulation.
Because the change is so savage, forcing almost all cars to cut their real-world fuel consumption and emissions by half, or a quarter, the European Commission already predicted that it would have to allow manufacturers a period of grace. A progressive grace period where Euro6 type-approvals would be increasingly demanding until all their parameters would have to comply with the WLTC.
What was put on the table was the option of creating percentage quotas on what could be the maximum deviation from the maximum values of Euro6, especially in relation to emissions of nitrogen oxides through a permitted deviation factor. In other words, how much more a car could emit in order to be Euro6 certified.
Before #dieselgate, with negotiations behind closed doors and secret, it is known that Germany led the group of belligerent countries regarding this regulation. It was asking, it is told, for a margin of up to 500%. That is, in 2017 their cars should be allowed to emit up to five times more than allowed by Euro6 in terms of NOx, reducing that permissive range progressively until 2020, when all cars should comply with Euro6 under the new WLTC cycle.
But the Volkswagen scandal has served us well. Without Volkswagen's huge blunder, Germany would have gone ahead with its negotiations behind closed doors, and the European Commission would probably have slipped through with this proposal, without any mainstream newspapers paying any attention to it. Fortunately, the Pistonudos were already informed from afar (here).
Well, today the proposals of each country regarding the margin to be given to manufacturers to adapt to Euro6, once the new WLTC type-approval cycle comes into force, are released.
Everything starts from the original proposal of the European Commission. The Commission, aware of the technical and economic limitations, had proposed a transition period between 2017 and 2019 in which an extra 60% of NOx emissions (correction factor 1.6) would be allowed over the limits imposed by Euro6. From 2019, that extra factor would be reduced to 1.18.
Germany had no political choice but to shut its mouth. The #dieselgate scandal has put all the spotlights on the country, and the fact of being co-owner of Volskwagen through the State of Lower Saxony, as well as being tremendously influenced by BMW and Daimler, has made the country decline to give a specific correction factor to be applied in the face of the new emission standards. In its documentation it limits itself to saying that "pragmatic limits must be applied, not just ambitious ones", and asks that manufacturers be allowed to exceed the Euro6 emissions targets by 65% (correction factor 1.65) from 2019, leaving the dirty work of progressive coupling between 2017 and 2019 to the rest of the member countries of the union with interests. This extra emissions would represent a 40% deviation from the limits proposed by the European Union.
Spain and France have made their voices heard in the transition period. They ask that instead of the 1.6 proposed by the European Commission, manufacturers can have a margin with a correction factor of 2.3, which would be an "extra" 40% of emissions compared to the factor proposed by the Commission. also increasing the transition time until 2020.
Italy and some Eastern European countries go further. They ask for an extra limit during the transition period, also extended to 2020, with a factor of 3.8. That is, they ask that cars, during this period of adaptation to the new method of measurement, can exceed by 140% the correction factor proposed by the European Commission.
The excuse of all these countries is simple: All are home to factories of large producers of diesel cars. In fact, Spain is the country with the largest production of cars with this engine in the European Union. Spain, in its text, makes a plea for employment, explaining that any tougher emissions regulations could have a very negative effect on the national economy, as manufacturers would probably have to make significant investments that, in the end, will influence employment and the volume of car production.
Interestingly, the NGO Transport & Environment advocates at the same time just the opposite: It assures that the compliance factor for NOx emissions should be 1.5 in the adaptation period, and never higher than 1 from 2019, explaining how it is technologically feasible through the use of selective catalytic converters (urea) and other measures already available (you can read the whole report here).
Reading all this, Javier Costas suggested me an apt headline: "Health in exchange for jobs". Unfortunately, that is the reality.
The adaptation period is necessary, but it is hypocritical to say that it is impossible to achieve the new limits.
But there is no need to be demagogic. There is an inescapable reality: manufacturers knew this regulation was coming, as the schedule for the new emission control cycle, the WLTC, was already set for 2017, and the whole industry knew that current Euro6 engines will cease to be Euro6 as soon as the new cycle comes into force.
Although manufacturers and countries accuse the European Commission of working without thinking about reality, with dream goals that in reality are not achievable in the established deadlines, the reality is what it is: Manufacturers were aware of what was coming, and have preferred not to gradually adapt to this measure, trusting that the negotiation that the European Commission will now have with the member countries will give results that will allow them to continue selling the technology they have now.
The European Commission is undoubtedly partly to blame for having maintained the stupid NEDC cycle for so many years, allowing manufacturers to make all kinds of tricks to homologate impossible consumption and pretend to be ecological, when they were not. But it is now, however, when the issue has to be resolved, that the Commission cannot be soft in the face of the demands of the Member States.
All the countries concerned are under enormous pressure from the industry located there. And as on so many other occasions, instead of standing up for ordinary citizens, we are experiencing yet another new situation in which local governments are working to defend industry lobbies ahead of common European health. The promise of jobs and prosperity may sound like a good excuse, but if the new emissions measures are applied in an ironclad manner throughout the union, all manufacturers will have to seek the same solutions, so we can expect not job losses, but reductions in profitability for each and every manufacturer with a presence in Europe, in a struggle to adapt to the conditions set by the new rules.
There will be no bloodshed, no mass redundancies or factory closures, but forced and hasty investment, caused only by the lack of medium-term planning capacity of the manufacturers themselves, who know that they can change the rules as they please through government pressure.
But what is most important to remember is that to say that the new limits are "impossible to achieve within the time limits" or are "unrealistic" or "anti-pragmatic" is grossly hypocritical, both by the countries and by the builders themselves.
The other day I was reading an essay on the history of the Wankel engine, which took me back to the oil crisis of the seventies, when emissions and consumption control standards began to be introduced in the United States, and I was reading how General Motors, Ford and Chrysler explained to the government how it was impossible to reduce emissions of unburned hydrocarbons and CO2 at the requested rate. Five years later all the manufacturers had achieved the targets, and even exceeded them. It was a matter of cheap talk mixed with economic interests.
Did those decisions have an impact on vehicle performance? Yes, a whole generation of vehicles lost performance compared to previous models. And now we can experience a similar situation. But not because of the regulation itself, but because of the manufacturers themselves, who instead of working to progressively achieve the new emissions targets since this process began in 2010! now intend to focus all the pressure on the European Commission explaining that in two years they will not be able to achieve the targets set. They have all (and I stress, all) wasted time for five years, without investing money in these new targets, and now their excuse is that in just two years they cannot meet the demands of the Commission.
Euro7 is just around the corner: 2021.
But it doesn't end there. Euro7 should be ready in 2021, and by then new emission limits will be required that will leave the CO2 at 95 grams per kilometer, which will be equivalent to 4.1 liters of average consumption as a target for the average vehicle sold by each manufacturer.
Since Euro7 will already be fully controlled by the new type-approval cycle, manufacturers are presented with a much bigger challenge, as they will not only have to jump and reduce consumption from Euro6 to Euro7 in a matter of six years, but they will first have to cut emissions and consumption a lot until they reach Euro6, and then, right after that, accelerate to reach Euro7.
A tremendous milestone with huge implications.
Hybrids and electrics are knocking on the door and are here to stay
And that brings us to the next step in the evolution of the automobile. The other day I did a dissertation for you about energy recovery systems in cars, after having given a presentation at a conference on the subject (you can review that article here). The conclusion of that report was obvious: By recovering energy currently discarded by our cars, we could achieve an increase in efficiency (and therefore a reduction in emissions) of almost 50%.
That 50% of available energy recovery is the key for manufacturers to meet Euro7 with the new approval cycle WLTC.
What is worrying, what is unnerving, is that this energy recovery technology has been available for years, but no manufacturer has been encouraged to invest in it, due to the competitive pressure of the market and the lack of regulations that would force them to do so. Customers were not willing to pay more for a car with energy recovery technologies, even if that meant consumption savings of 50%, as the investment cost in these technologies would have meant a product that would have been too expensive.
This result, thanks to the competitive pressure of the sector and the lack of a strong hand from the authorities, has led us to the fact that hybrids, those cars capable of collecting and reusing energy that would otherwise have been wasted, are not yet in the majority on our roads.
But the blending of the WLTC with Euro7 will change this radically. Manufacturers can only push to delay the effective implementation of the new emission standards, perhaps with government aid, but whether in 2019 or 2021, the hybridization of almost all vehicles on the market will be an unavoidable reality.
Not only that. The complete electrification of certain models will also be another reality. While some cars will become hybrids, others will undoubtedly become pure electric, as the economic commitment to the cost of hybridization in eminently urban vehicles (mainly in the A segment) will make it more profitable to create electric cars than hybrids for a certain profile of use.
Goodbye to diesels
The other major revolution, beyond electrification and mass hybridisation, will be the announced death of diesel engines. Given the new limits on nitrogen oxide emissions and the new approval processes, the marketing of diesel engines in passenger cars will be relegated to the anecdotal.
And we will all win with it, no doubt, since cities like Madrid and Barcelona, which already have open disciplinary proceedings for exceeding concentrations of these gases, will be able to clean up their skies.
The curious thing is that the "carte blanche of transport" that the European Union has already marked as a goal the elimination of diesel transport in city centers. And although part of this achievement will be achieved on the basis of these new emission standards, the other part will take similar routes to those already announced in Paris: The ban on access to the city center diesel cars, to prevent cars prior to these new emission standards "putenteen" the real objectives.
There will be those who are pissed off with these rules. There will be those who complain because they have a diesel car. But it's for the good of everyone's health. It is for the good of the whole collective, from individuals to the whole of society, something that will benefit us all in our health and in our medical costs in public health.
What is unnerving is the way of doing things: Delaying the unavoidable to make money and not get the shit splashed on you.
But the final conclusion of all this tocho that I leave you here this morning is in a personal complaint, which is repeated and will be repeated over time: What is most annoying is to see the little desire to move forward for the social benefit of all.
It was unavoidable, with the urban air health regulations that we have marked in the European Union, that sooner or later, we would have to take the bull by the horns and effectively reduce the main source of pollutant gas emissions: Cars.
It was unavoidable to correct the disastrous way of measuring emissions and consumption of cars, as NEDC was not relevant, and implement a new cycle was something that was going to happen.
It was also inevitable that the technology would take advantage of its evolution to integrate energy recovery systems to achieve more efficient cars than the ones we have now, being embarrassing and stupid at the same time that we allowed ourselves to have such wasteful cars without any manufacturer being the least bit concerned about taking steps in the right direction in terms of creating more efficient products, something technologically possible for two decades.
And, despite the fact that all this was coming, first intuitively, and since 2010 with concrete dates and data, manufacturers have not moved effectively. They have waited until 2015, until this week, to put pressure on governments to give them the leeway to continue delaying the implementation of necessary standards that they knew were coming.
Why? Because the longer everything is delayed, the later they will have to face this new reality and these investments, and the longer they will be able to be distributing industrial profits, not having to undertake huge investments in technology.
It would have been much more sensible to have been investing in this technology progressively for five years. The income statement would not have suffered so much. Shareholders would have earned less, and now there would be no moaning and groaning. Threats of imminent hecatomb and industrial collapse. It's all hypocrisy at its purest.
But it is clear, and we have said it more than once, that manufacturers can only be "forced" to offer really green cars if emissions regulations force them to do so. The end customer does not ask for it. The end customer is not able to put pressure on the industry to go for more efficient alternatives.
At the political level, governments put pressure on the Commission, knowing that a tough decision today could splash them. But they do not have a vision for 10 or 15 years, they are watching "tomorrow", their political gain, becoming tools for manufacturers to try to impose their will.
That is why it is vital that the European Commission listens to the scientists and technicians who have developed the WLTC and the Euro6 and forthcoming Euro7 emissions standards. It is vital that the Commission does not bow to the will of industry and governments, no matter how much they claim that the sector is strategic, that it has just emerged from a tremendous crisis ... If the rules are fair and equal for all manufacturers, and their application is equally ruthless for all of them, the result in five or seven years' time will be an improvement in the healthiness of the air, an improvement for all Europeans.
And it is that, the improvement of the lives of all Europeans, that is what the Commission should be aiming for, is it not?