By on February 24, 2015

2013 Ford Fusion Hybrid Fuel Economy Display, 49MPG, Picture Courtesy of Alex L. Dykes

After a series of scandals involving incorrect fuel economy ratings, the EPA is revising its self-reporting guidelines for auto maker fuel economy standards, in a bid to ensure greater accuracy in the real world.

Currently, manufacturers are responsible for conducting their own tests according to EPA guidelines. While the new regulations cover the preparation of the vehicle in advance of the test, the Detroit News also reports that a key metric is being revised to closer match real world driving conditions

Also at issue are “road load” tests used to determine the impact of aerodynamic drag and tire rolling resistance on gas mileage. Currently, that is measured at 50 miles per hour. Under the new guidelines, automakers must measure the results at all speeds up to 70 mph.

The relatively slow speeds can often equal a highway fuel economy figure that is optimistic compared to what drivers can expect in real world conditions. The EPA also intends to close the loophole used by Ford that allowed it to assign the same fuel economy ratings for the C-Max and Fusion Hybrid models. This loophole allows auto makers to state the fuel economy rating of the “volume” model for a group of vehicles that use the same powertrain. In this case, Ford was able to use the superior Fusion’s rating for the C-Max (which got 43 mpg to the Fusion’s 47). Ford ended up re-stating fuel economy figures for the C-Max and compensating owners for delivering poorer than advertised fuel economy.

But the new guidelines are just that. Speaking to the paper, the EPA’s Chris Grundler said that drafting new, legally binding rules would take two to three years, which is too much time in their eyes

“Writing regulations takes time…When you are working in the rapidly changing environment that we’re in right now, we want to make sure that we are agile enough and flexible enough to change with those times.”

As we’ve noted in the past, the EPA’s fuel economy standards need a significant overhaul. The new “guidelines” simply don’t go far enough. The EPA only audits around 10 to 15 percent of vehicles per year, relying on the manufacturers to provide accurate claims for the rest of the fleet. Meanwhile, the test procedures themselves can be gamed due to powertrain calibration that takes advantage of the test parameters.

The test itself, as some have suggested, is really oriented more towards emissions than fuel consumption. If that’s the case, why not overhaul it to be more like the European tests that measure CO2 – which happen to be undergoing their own revamping right now to better ensure real world relevance? Both tests also give far too much leeway to small turbocharged engines, which are notorious for performing well on the test and then wildly missing their stated fuel economy in the real world.

With fuel economy figures becoming an increasingly important part of consumer decision-making – and auto maker marketing campaigns, the need for a more accurate fuel economy testing procedure has never been greater. The new guidelines are a step in the right direction, if nothing else. But they could go further.

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24 Comments on “Analysis: EPA Revising Fuel Economy Testing Guidelines...”

  • avatar

    According to Autoline, the trend for other countries is to match the US emissions regulations, not the Europeans because they are more applicable and forward thinking. It would seem backwards to convert the US regulations to be like the Europeans.

    I don’t like the CO2-centric nature of the European standards. IMO, the health effects of smog/lung disease and reducing hydrocarbon consumption (for national & economic security) are bigger issues for me than global warming. (I’m not a global warming denier, and I believe in reducing CO2 emissions, but I don’t consider it as significant of an issue as the other, more immediate issues. Furthermore, I believe addressing those issues also addresses CO2/global warming.)

    • 0 avatar

      Capping CO2 is one way to address fuel economy. You can’t reduce CO2 without reducing fuel consumption. In a stiochiometrically correct conventional engine the only way to reduce CO2 is to reduce the volume of fuel and air burned be it reduced engine speed, reduced displacement or what have you. It’s also a round about way to curb power.

      • 0 avatar

        Capping any emission is a way to address fuel economy. Sure, catalytic converters and particulate traps are ways to reduce emissions, but simply getting better mpg is another. Driving less (and sitting in traffic less) is another way to reduce emissions.

        Which is better–every car on the road getting twice the mpg (i.e., use half as much fuel) or every car on the road driving half as far (i.e., use half as much fuel)? From a GHG or smog perspective, both are the same, but from a per-car perspective, one’s much more onerous. I like the cleaner air the EPA measures have produced, and those are driven by actual smog measurements, not tailpipe inspections. If such is accomplished without modification to vehicles (such as through better infrastructure), I’m fine with that because it accomplishes the same end goal.

        • 0 avatar

          You don’t seem to follow this.

          Smog reduction is largely a function of adding technology to a car, not the amount of fuel that is burned. A modern gas guzzler is producing a tiny fraction of the amount of NOx that is produce by a fuel sipper from the 1970s, for example. The modern car has far more technology that is used to reduce the emissions that contribute to smog.

          CO2 and MPG are related to each other in the same way that inches and centimeters are related to each other. A gas car that gets 25 mpg (US) is producing 218 grams of CO2 per kilometer, and vice versa. (The formula is different for diesel.)

          There is only one way to reduce CO2 output, and that is to burn less motor fuel. The aforementioned 1970s compact is producing less C02 than the modern gas guzzler because it is getting higher MPG, even though its smog emissions are many times higher.

          A CAFE mandate and a CO2 rule is doing the same thing. The Europeans talk a lot about it in CO2 terms because they end up being taxed on it, but they are essentially using a system that is similar to the original US CAFE standards.

    • 0 avatar
      Brian P

      I don’t know where they got that idea.

      US motor vehicle regulations are applicable in the USA, and Canada more-or-less copied them. UN-ECE regulations, or close variations thereof, are used everywhere else in the world. There are some countries that recognize both. Nothing has really changed. If anything, Canada has been moving towards recognizing the worldwide standards in addition to the US standards.

      I know the US is trying to strongarm their regulations on other countries as part of various trade agreements.

      There are no “standards” pertaining to CO2 emissions … only taxation strategies, of which the US CAFE is one, and the Euro taxation scheme is another, and this is up to individual countries. A vehicle manufacturer can build a vehicle that emits as much CO2 as they wish … if they pay the tax or buy the emissions credits.

      • 0 avatar

        Anything that addresses MPG is addressing CO2, and vice versa. They’re the same thing.

        The new CAFE requires improvements for all vehicle sizes; it is no longer possible to offset a gas guzzler merely by selling something else.

  • avatar

    “But if we copy the euro stuff our careers, even our jobs, may be in jeopardy.”

  • avatar

    “If that’s the case, why not overhaul it to be more like the European tests that measure CO2”

    This is equivalent to standard = metric. They’re different digits that represent the same thing.

    The EPA does report the data in both C02 and MPG form. The emphasis is placed on reporting MPG because that’s what is familiar to and most helpful for consumers. (The test calculates MPG based upon tailpipe emissions, so they’re actually measuring the emissions in the form of grams per mile, then converting the results into an MPG figure.)

    In Europe, CO2 levels often correspond to taxation bands for registration fees and other costs, which makes CO2 output relevant for car buyers because it impacts company car allowances, annual registration fees, etc.. In the US, registration fees usually have something to do with the value of the car, which makes CO2 less relevant.

  • avatar

    These seem like good rule changes. Closing loopholes and restricting some of the gaming that goes on.

    Anti-Government types should be pleased that the EPA lets companies self report and let those ethically challenged companies (Ford and Hyundai in this case) take the reputational and financial damage that will occur when they are found out.

  • avatar

    Here is an idea – how about ending “self testing” and instead the government contract with a few different vendors to do the certifications, at manufacturers expense. Vendors pull the cars from a lot and “buy them” with an invoice back to the manufacturer after testing. So sort of like Consumer Reports (Consumer Reports buys their test subjects off the lots, but they don’t invoice anyone after).

    Or just take ATP and charge that back – a BMW 7-series will cost more, a Honda Fit puts money back into the pot, it all balances out.

    Manufacturers can’t “rig the system,” an independent third party does the tests, no government employees added, with multiple vendors if a manufacturer disputes the findings they can request a secondary test from another lab – who again would buy a random car, etc. etc. etc.

    This is somewhere between government and self-testing, but eliminates a lot of ways to “game the numbers.”

    • 0 avatar

      This is not an issue that is begging for more bureaucracy.

      Hybrids get better fuel economy than regular vehicles because they shut off the gas engine at points. A system as aggressive as Ford’s is necessarily going to create more variability in the results, since variations in driving styles and conditions can greatly vary the number of times that the motor turns off and on. (Toyota’s is more even keel, and therefore more predictable.)

      It would seem that Ford designed their hybrid to perform well on the EPA tests, which are very specific cycles. If we don’t like this, then the answer is to change the test procedures for hybrids and/or to impose rules on how they operate so that they can’t game the current test. The tests were not designed with hybrids in mind.

      • 0 avatar

        How does this create more bureaucracy? An independent, non-government lab, gets a request from an automaker to evaluate the MPG performance of their vehicle for certification.

        The lab goes out and buys a vehicle on their own, follows the test procedure, reports the results and sends them an invoice. After certification the vehicle is sold off.

        The government does zilch here but get the results – someone other than the fox watches the hen house.

        So the added bureaucracy here is exactly….

        • 0 avatar

          Your presumption that everyone is cheating is unfounded. The process itself is fine: the system of spot checks and punishing the cheaters after the fact in order to discourage cheating works quite well most of the time.

          The issue is that certain hybrid designs aren’t well represented by the test. Focus on that instead.

          In any case, OEMs use pre-production models to test cars. They need to be certified before they go on sale.

          And you’ve just unnecessarily raised the overhead cost of the testing by forcing someone to buy the car before it is tested. That cost is going to be passed on back to the OEMs, which will pass it on to us, and it’s completely unnecessary.

          • 0 avatar

            I don’t find the “everyone is cheating” unfounded.

            Kia, Hyundai, Honda and Ford have all been zinged for cheating. You can build a case very easily that the Theta vehicles and non-Eco versions of the Cruze sure has heck cheated.

            A common meme is, “I don’t get close to sticker on my …..” there are plenty of reasons why, mostly the test is BS to begin with. However there is plenty of evidence and cases of car companies outright cheating.

            You also didn’t answer the question on how what was outlined is creating a new bureaucracy. The proposed idea negates the ability to cheat the system because the tested vehicles are sourced through a dealership and bought off the lot.

          • 0 avatar

            “A common meme is, ‘I don’t get close to sticker on my ….’ ”

            “Your Mileage May Vary”

            The purpose of the test is not to predict how much gas that you will personally burn. There is no possible way for anyone to predict that with any test.

            What can be done is to have a test that has consistent procedures so that results are comparable across models. Which they are.

            You want approved testing centers with specific vehicle acquisition requirements (which is not actually possible for the reason that I have explained) conducted by approved rating agencies, as if that changes anything.

            The tests follow very specific procedures. Those are already being followed. You’ve just made it harder and more expensive to replicate what we’re already doing.

            This is a solution in search of a problem. The test was not designed to provide consistent results for PHEVs with large batteries. The amount of gas that they burn can vary a lot because of how they operate. This is not that big of an issue because there are so few of them on the road, but go fix that.

            The Obama administration has really cranked up the penalties for OEM failures. We have a legal system that also helps to keep things in check — OEMs that lie will get sued. That’s enough, thanks.

        • 0 avatar

          Just make sure the labs working for the gov’t are not the same labs working for the car makers testing other topics… ;)

          • 0 avatar

            Private companies can game the testing as well. IIRC there was a company in the EU that did private testing. It’s test track surface provided better mpg and so did the track’s location. They got more business due to the fact that their test numbers were higher than other test sites.

            Any system can be “gamed”. Technically it isn’t cheating and it isn’t illegal if one finds loopholes to exploit. It just happens to be unethical and dare I say immoral.

  • avatar

    Or just de-emphasize the importance of the test. Switch to a fuel tax instead of CAFE. Less regulation, less gaming the system, and a more versatile way to allow consumers to figure out how to conserve fuel.

    • 0 avatar

      Santa Claus will bring world peace before there is a substantial increase in US gas taxes.

      • 0 avatar

        indeed. The lack of an increase in the fuel tax, whether you think we need one or not, displays a good bit of the dysfunction in our system at present. Either it was too high last time it was raised, or its too low today. The cost of highway maintenance has obviously increased.

        Somewhere there was a big misstep. I heard a good argument the other day that the problem may have been going to direct election of Senators. Under the original design, the Senators were more beholden to their state governments, and this kept a check on Federal power as well as Senators leaning towards the emotions of the voters rather than the long term outcome of legislation.

  • avatar
    Brian P

    Changing the test procedure itself is a lengthier exercise, but it needs to happen. The “correction factors” that they apply to the measurements don’t fully address the problem. The current test cycles use extremely gentle acceleration and low speeds, and this problem exists both in USA and Europe. It allows hybrids to run electric-only for an unrealistic portion of the cycle, and it allows tiny, turbocharged engines to do the test cycle without running under boost.

    Include in the test cycle a step-change from zero to 70 mph / 120 km/h or thereabouts, and have the car follow the best it can (i.e. full throttle acceleration) and that all changes …

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    The EPA fuel rating is a farce, the manufacturers know this.

    I do believe many of the FE figures are quite optimistic. My mother is complaining because she claims her Focus isn’t returning the FE that was advertised.

    I agree with APaGttH that an independent testing agency should test the vehicles at the expense of the manufacturer. That is every model and trim. This would probably be cheaper than the manufacture testing the vehicles.

    At best the EPA FE figures only indicate that fuel efficiency has improved, for now, this will change.

    If the current system is maintained the FE figures will become more distorted. This distortion will be created by the increased use of turbo charged engines.

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