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Car Owners Face Fuel Shock as Emissions Tests Miss Reality

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  • Real-world car CO2 emissions 42% higher than lab results
  • Lower eficiency means owners spend an extra 400 euros on fuel

Car owners in Europe are paying about 400 euros ($460) a year more than they expected for fuel because of a record gap between what vehicles actually burn on the road compared with manufacturers’ data, according to a study from the International Council on Clean Transportation. 

Carbon dioxide emissions on the road are 42 percent higher on average than the official figures from carmakers, the organization, which helped uncover Volkswagen AG’s cheating on diesel emissions, said in a summary of the report released Monday. The difference was just 9 percent in 2001, which means most claims of efficiency improvements only showed up in lab tests, according to the ICCT.

“The gap between sales-brochure figures and the real world has reached another all-time high,” said Uwe Tietge, lead author of the study, which analyzed data from 1.1 million vehicles in eight European countries.

While emissions gaps exist in the U.S., Japan and China, Europe has the biggest discrepancy between official data and road results because of loose regulations, limited enforcement and outdated tests. Reliable results are critical for the industry to regain lost consumer trust as well as provide a sound basis for meeting environmental rules. The European Commission, the executive arm of the European Union, is due to announce a proposal to address vehicle pollution later this week.

The growing discrepancy in emissions results stems in part from the fact that cars are becoming more efficient, but the tests don’t account for normal acceleration or the energy drain from common features such as air conditioning and heated seats, German auto-industry lobby VDA said by email in response to questions from Bloomberg.

Scrutiny on vehicle emissions has intensified since Volkswagen’s test-cheating scandal erupted more than two years ago. The crisis has sapped demand for diesel models and prompted automakers to step up investment in electric vehicles. The so-called Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure is in the process of being rolled out in Europe and should bring official figures closer to real-world emissions.

“But even the new test procedure contains new loopholes that could permit the performance gap to increase again in the future,” Peter Mock, the ICCT’s managing director, said in the statement.

— With assistance by Andrew Atkinson

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