If automakers thought the EPA testing system and industry regulations were a heavy load, they are about to get heavier. In response to the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” scandal, the Office of Transportation and Air Quality issued a letter to automakers advising them emissions tests would become more comprehensive, adding to the time it would take to get a new vehicle approved for sale on the U.S. market.
Following revelations Volkswagen has used a “defeat device” to fool emissions testing equipment into endorsing false fuel economy ratings for its Clean Diesel TDI cars, the EPA was forced to answer questions about how it had been fooled, and why. As the details emerged, it turned out researchers for the International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT) had discovered the discrepancies betweens emissions tests and the real-world performance of the Volkswagen vehicles.
It took one minor recall and finally a ban of VW’s 2016 model-year diesel cars for the cheating to come to light. The original deceit — not to mention the delay in the announcement of the violation — has made the EPA look weak and inefficient in the eyes of many. To counter this argument, regulators responded that the Volkswagens in question make up less than 1% of vehicles on the road. (In the gigantic domestic auto market, 482,000 cars are just a drop in the bucket.)
Additionally, the EPA sent a letter to automakers dated September 25 saying it would introduce new tests for cars to simulate regular driving conditions and would check for defeat devices. These add-ins to the regulatory process “may add time to the confirmatory test process,” the EPA said, before adding “additional mileage may be accumulated” on the cars automakers would be obliged to submit for testing. Details were purposely left out of the letter.
Chris Grundler, head of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality, made it clear that the agency would be less forthcoming with automakers about emissions tests in the future.
“We aren’t going to tell them what these tests are, they don’t need to know,” Grundler was quoted saying in the Wall Street Journal. “They only need to know we will be keeping their vehicles longer and driving them more.”
As emissions standards continue getting stricter in the coming years, automakers will be under the microscope any time a new vehicle comes up for approval on the U.S. market. The brazen tactics of Volkswagen and other automakers won’t have a place in this stricter era of testing.
Like diesel vehicles, electric vehicles and hybrids make up a sliver of the auto industry as a whole, but claims of economy and electric range may become tougher to prove, especially if the EPA uses real-world conditions such as the use of air conditioning and typical acceleration. EV range might suffer across the board.
Volkswagen awoke a sleeping government agency that had bigger fish in emissions test deceit — namely, industrial diesel trucks — to fry. Now that real-world driving tests are likely to become standard, every automaker should brace itself for the EPA’s pinch.
Follow Eric on Twitter @EricSchaalNY