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Type Approval: the limits for alternative technology

The UK’s RAC Foundation ‘Shades of Green’ event marked the outcome report from the inaugural Brighton to London Future Car Challenge, designed to give a real-world flavour to the evaluation of the myriad competing technologies of the emergent low-carbon automotive industry future. As such, the event was manifestly not about testing cars through a standardised … Continued

The UK’s RAC Foundation ‘Shades of Green’ event marked the outcome report from the inaugural Brighton to London Future Car Challenge, designed to give a real-world flavour to the evaluation of the myriad competing technologies of the emergent low-carbon automotive industry future.

As such, the event was manifestly not about testing cars through a standardised duty cycle. What it clearly exposed, however, was that the Type Approval process as it currently stands both in Europe and, by extension elsewhere in the world, is increasingly inadequate to the task of providing consumers and regulators with meaningful information by which the comparative performance of different vehicles could be ascertained. More profoundly, the event raised the question of whether a single metric, understandable to all and constructed through a transparent, rigorous and realistic methodology, could indeed be created.

Type Approval process as it currently stands both in Europe and, by extension elsewhere in the world, is increasingly inadequate to the task of providing consumers and regulators with meaningful information by which the comparative performance of different vehicles could be ascertained.

Three groups of cars participated in the actual trial, with 63 in all of which 51 completed the 60 mile (96km) drive:

  • Pure electric (battery);
  • Hybrids (including plug-ins and hydrogen fuel cells);
  • Internal combustion engines emitting no more than 110g CO2/km on the official New European Drive Cycle.

The bigger picture is of course the need, for the UK and other industrialised nations, to drive down total CO2 emissions by 80% by 2050. According to Ricardo Martinez-Botas of Imperial College who provided the analysis of vehicle performance in the Future Car Challenge, the problem is that CO2 emissions are not a good way of measuring the performance of non-internal combustion engine vehicles, even though a CO2 emissions equivalent can be calculated. Indeed, in his view the only viable long-term alternatives are “…biofuel, synthetic fuel and electricity, these possibly could go to zero (carbon emissions)”.

CO2 emissions are not a good way of measuring the performance of non-internal combustion engine vehicles, even though a CO2 emissions equivalent can be calculated.

When the results were presented in terms of energy use, Martinez-Botas used MJ/km as the metric, with the result that 14 of the top 15 cars in terms of lowest energy use per kilometre were electric, while the worst performers were diesel. As Martinez-Botas said, “It is not a unit that I have been very popular in using, but it is the best SI (International System of Units) metric to use.” However, when the results were presented in terms of well-to-wheel CO2 equivalent using UK energy mix conversion factors, the results are startlingly different, with hybrid cars dominating the lowest energy use and electric cars more widely spread.

According to Richard Headland, from the leading consumer organisation Which?, selling electric and alternative cars is the biggest challenge facing the industry right now. He was alarmed at how the stated performance range of one example (the Mitsubishi iMiEV) deteriorated significantly once an item like the in-car heater was engaged. Indeed his view was that “…we need greater clarity on issues like whole life-cycle emissions and electric vehicle performance. The NEDC is inadequate to help consumers. There are so many limitations with this cycle just when we look at combustion engines…we need more realistic tests to help consumers choose over these new technologies.”

The opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Automotive World Ltd.

Dr Peter Wells is a Reader at Cardiff Business School, where he is a Co-Director of the Centre for Automotive Industry Research and leads the automotive industry research programme within BRASS, also in Cardiff University. Dr Wells is also a director of AutomotiveWorld.com’s sister website AWPresenter.com. He can be contacted on wellspe@cardiff.ac.uk.

The AutomotiveWorld.com Expert Opinion column is open to automotive industry decision makers and influencers. If you would like to contribute an Expert Opinion piece, please contact editorial@automotiveworld.com

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