Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Forget the emissions tests – it’s the real world that matters for Volkswagen

SOMETHING weird has been happening at office water coolers and in crowded bars across the North West. People – some of whom have no interest in cars at all – have been chatting in serious tones about diesel Volkswagens.

As boring topics go it’s up there with mortgages and washing machines – yet it seems to have relegated the Premier League, Strictly and whoever Katie Hopkins is offending this week firmly into ‘Oh, by the way’ territory. Even the tabloids are it. The Sun splashed ‘WE ARE FUMING’ across its outraged front page in response to Europe’s biggest car maker flunking the emissions entry exams.

What happens next will involve lots of American lawyers, hefty fines and some rather panicky German businessmen holding board meetings – but I wouldn’t rush to stick the Golf up for sale. Today’s derv-burners are still far cleaner and leaner than smokey old clatterers like my 17-year-old Peugeot 306 – I love its ability to eke 55 miles out of every gallon, but in emissions terms a new VW would run rings around it.

What’s far more important about the VW scandal is that it finally throws a spotlight on the testing regimes used for new cars – almost all of which are complete cobblers. It’s all very well slamming a car company for coming up with software that can get a car through emissions test, but the real problem is the test itself.

The tests used for cars sold in this country fail to take account of the 57.3 million square miles of land on this planet that isn’t inside an EU or manufacturer testing lab – the real world, where you and I and all those other pesky motorists live. None of us have the luxury of getting 76mpg and artificially low emissions in hermetically sealed, optimised conditions. We’re all getting a fraction of that in rush hour congestion on the A59, which is why I’m forever getting complaints off people who can’t match their car’s claimed MPG and why I’m not surprised the reality of VW’s diesel offerings is nowhere near what the lab testers said. It’s complete nonsense.

What’s needed is a revolution in how new cars are tested – a test that happens in the real world, where car makers can’t effectively cheat their way through and in which you and I end up looking at realistic emissions and MPG figures when weighing up whether to plump for a Polo over a Fiesta.

We’ve been doing it with independently adjudicated safety tests for ages – your new family hatch is nowhere in the showrooms these days without a full wad of Euro NCAP stars.

Now what we need is a proper, independent organisation to finally banish the bull from new car emissions and fuel economy figures. Perhaps VW’s inevitable fines could pay for it.


  1. An interesting point of view you have here, in the common panic and the loud titles on the front of almost every newspaper in the world for the last couple of days, many people still not even try to understand the real problem and how it can be solved. We guess that scandal is selling and VW got the shortest stick this time, playing the scandalous role, however it is not only about VW, or the other car brands now being tested, but for an overall consciousness. Is this an intentionally caused scandal with many consequences and losses for VW group? Well, only time will show us how “Dieselgate” will end up. However, if the Germans don’t make quality diesel engines, then who can make them better?

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