It is an annoyance familiar to many consumers worried about gas prices. When buying a new car, drivers want to know their vehicle’s gas consumption rate. They are often disappointed.
Generally, autos consume 1 to 2 liters more gasoline or diesel fuel per 100 kilometers than stated. The German Environmental Relief (Deutsche Umwelthilfe) group has published a website where drivers can log in their vehicle’s fuel consumption.
The ADAC, Germany’s equivalent to the AAA auto club in the United States, at one time determined that fuel consumption rates were about 25 percent higher than carmakers’ claimed.
Auto manufacturers are not primarily at fault for the fibbing.
The companies continue to benefit from a so-called “driving cycle” set of behavioral statistics compiled by the European Union. The European Union gets help in drafting these statistics from the Motor Vehicle Emissions Group, an organization associated with the auto industry.
Starting in 2021, automakers in Germany will face new, lower carbon dioxide limits requiring more efficient engines. Several auto makers are likely to have problems meeting the tougher standards, and not only makers of large luxury vehicles.
Critics of the regulations have sound arguments. The current standard only measures speeds to 120 kilometers per hour (72 miles per hour).
Higher gas consumption due to higher speeds - which are common on Germany's autobahn - are not part of the calculation. Similarly, short distances or urban trips are not included.
The bureaucrats in Brussels assume drivers always consider the gear-shift advice that comes with manual transmission cars. With vehicles that have automatic transmissions, the fuel consumption calculation is somewhat more realistic.
However, use of air conditioning does not carry too much weight with consumption measurements, for both manual and automatic transmissions.
Even less practical is the method of measuring acceleration: 26 seconds is the estimate for going from zero to 50 kilometers per hour. Whoever pulls away from a traffic light at such a slow rate is guaranteed to annoy drivers behind him.
Emissions are also measured. If fuel consumption exceeds the amount indicated by the manufacturer, pollution increases too. It is here that manufacturers are affected and the regulations begin to bite.
Starting in 2021, automakers in Germany will face lower carbon emission limits requiring more efficient engines. Several auto makers are likely to have problems meeting the tougher standards, and not only makers of large luxury vehicles.
A study from the Brussels research group Transport & Environment estimates BMW, General Motors, Fiat and Hyundai won’t meet the standard.
Penalties in the hundreds of millions of euros are possible.
If a more realistic set of assumptions was used to calculate the efficiency standards, then drivers could spare some frustration.
The auto industry, which profits from the current rules with the low consumption data, will have to increase their efforts to actually improve engine efficiency and not just polish the stats.
A new set of assumptions based on more realistic measure of actual habits could already be applied as soon as 2017. That is when the United Nations project to devise “Worldwide Harmonized Test Procedures” may be put into place.
The new rules could come into force unless the powerful automobile lobby, which is its habit in Europe, delays their implementation.