Automotive Industry: Car emissions: automotive industry’s game changing issue - Sept.digital issue

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Meeting global carbon emission goals is a feat that is worth prevailing for the automotive industry.

Vehicles: main culprits of pollution

There is no doubt that vehicles are one of the main pollution contributors. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says in its audit that more than 90% of air pollution in cities in developing countries is linked to vehicle emissions due to the high number of older vehicles, poor vehicle maintenance, inadequate infrastructure and low fuel quality.

Emissions spewed from personal cars are generally low, yet the accumulation of smog from all the vehicles on the roads undoubtedly contributes to the poor air quality. While most developed countries, according to UNEP, have already set up measures to curb vehicle emissions, in terms of fuel quality and vehicle emission reduction technologies, most cities in developing countries have yet to catch up.

Fine prints in carbon emissions policies vary from country to country, but the common goal is to cap the pollution from automotive emissions of particulate matter (PM), nitrogen oxides (NOx), hydrocarbons (HC) and carbon monoxide (CO).

The US has the Environment Protection Authority (EPA) standards and Europe has emission regulations (which for now only cover exhaust PM emissions) that are adopted as part of the EU framework for the types of approvals for cars, vans trucks, buses and coaches.

Nonetheless, the situation with defeat devices has opened up the need for stricter implementation of emissions rules.

The introduction of the Real Driving Emissions test (RDE) procedure for testing air pollutant emissions by diesel cars, beginning September next year, is expected to better reflect the actual emissions on the roads and reduce the current discrepancy between emissions measured in real driving to those measured in a laboratory, the European Commission (EC) has stated.

The RDE procedure complements the current laboratory-based procedure to check that the vehicle emission levels of NOx, and in a next stage also particle numbers (PN), measured during the laboratory test, are confirmed in real-time driving conditions.

Far reaching outcomes; vehicle makers under scrutiny

It was a nifty innovation: software tucked within the vehicle’s electronic control module that switched to a “clean” mode once it detected that an emissions test was being run. But Volkswagen (VW)’s defeat device has put the German car maker’s reputation at stake, when it was found to be fibbing emissions data during tests undertaken. Some 11 VW diesel car models, like Jetta, Beetle, Audi and Passat, were equipped with the device.

The emissions issue continues to unravel further and consequences will be far reaching. In Europe, sales for diesel vehicles have dropped and IHS Automotive projects the market share for new diesels sold in Europe will decline by about 35% by 2027.

Other diesel car makers have been dragged into the issue with allegations of rigging tests; while other vehicle makers have been found to be using defeat devices. For example, Germany’s certification specialist TÜV Nord discovered defeat devices in Opel’s diesel cars, which the expert says cause “exhaust gas treatment in those cars to be severely limited, allowing the emissions of more poisonous NOx than permissible by law“.

Meanwhile, Japanese car maker Nissan has also been called out by South Korea for rigging a device in its British-built Qashqai car. It, however, denied the allegations.

Across the globe, car models are undergoing stricter testing than ever. The Australian Automobile Association (AAA) is allocating A$500,000 to conduct its own on-road emissions tests of 30 models sold in the country, including both the pre-modified and modified versions of VW’s TDI diesel models.

Even South Korea, after fining VW US$6 million, has expanded its probe on foreign car brands. About 100 models from 23 companies are to be investigated, according to the Environment Ministry.

Meanwhile, Netherlands has hinted at banning new diesel or gas-powered cars by 2025, and will make way for Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEVs), powered by battery or hydrogen fuel cells. Germany is heading in the same direction, staving off 95% carbon emissions by 2030. Norway’s efforts to increase the use of electric vehicles are paying off, with some 29% of all new cars sold in this category.

But in the US, sales of hybrids and electric cars remain modest at 1% of new car sales.

Electric vehicles to hit zero emission mark

The fracas has cost VW a huge sum: about US$15 billion to compensate for buybacks, penalties and damages and to cover lawsuits, mainly in the US where it has sold nearly 500,000 vehicles. But the carmaker has admitted to installing the cheating device on more than 11 million cars worldwide, with 8.5 million in Europe.

Also, VW is required to invest US$2 billion in projects that will promote the use of ZEVs in the US.

Adoption of ZEVs or electric vehicles (EVs) aims to help taper the carbon emissions problem plaguing the automotive sector.

Across the globe, there are five regions that are likely to dominate the EV market, namely the US, China, Europe, Japan, and South Korea, according to the US-based International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT)’s white paper published in 2015. These regions make up 75% of world vehicle sales and 76% of world vehicle manufacturing. In the transition towards zeroemission driving, EVs powered by ultra-low carbon electricity or hydrogen will be needed, it says.


Like many European countries drafting a zeroemission future, Germany has set a 2050 target of cutting CO2 emissions by 95%, by requiring all new cars registered in the country to meet zeroemissions specifications by 2030.

Norway’s National Transport Plan (NTP), a 12-year plan that is revised every fourth year and prioritises resources within the transport sector, is aiming for 100% ZEV sales by 2025. Additionally, it proposes for zero-emission compliance by 2030 for all new heavier class vans, 75% of new longdistance buses, and 50% of new trucks.


Car manufacturers are, at the same time, introducing new EV models. Even VW will rebuild EV models, as announced in its Strategy 2025, an initial step to recoup its setback, and will offer more economy-focused and utility vehicles. A recent offer, the BUDD-e electric van, which VW showcased at the Consumer Electronics show in Las Vegas early this year, features 101 kWh batteries that enable up to 373 miles of pure electric range. The high-performance battery is flat for space savings, and integrated into the entire vehicle floor.


Nissan recently launched its BladeGlider sports car in Brazil. The 100% electric-powered vehicle features control systems that are integrated into the steering wheel and fed into an advanced data monitor showing speed, battery charge status, regeneration mode and torque display. Both the engine and the powertrain lithium-ion battery have been developed by Nissan’s project partner, UK-based Williams Advanced Engineering.

Swedish vehicle manufacturer, Volvo Cars, has previously stated intentions of offering plugin hybrid variants of every model, and it has introduced new hybrid models. Its target is to sell up to 1 million all-electric and plug-in hybrid models, in total, by 2025.

Charging of EVs a challenge

EVs include hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), fullbattery electric, and hydrogen fuel cell types. The latter is said to pose the greatest potential in EV technology targets by 2050. Current trends and data on EVs, however, show more plug-in EVs being used, due to their increased availability, marketing, and sales in recent year.

EVs also pose a few challenges, such as the quick-charging infrastructure that is not yet standardised, and charging stations are far and few.

The US is seeking to speed up the adoption of EVs through the expansion of charging infrastructure, unlocking up to US$4.5 billion loan guarantees to support innovative electric vehicle charging facilities. Some 50 industry members have committed to the Guiding Principles to Promote Electric Vehicles and Charging Infrastructure, which will initiate the collaboration between the government and industry to increase the deployment of electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Volvo, together with other car makers like Tesla, BMW and VW, are advocating for a global standardised charging infrastructure for EVs, and thus back the Charging Interface Initiative (CharIN), founded to establish the Combined Charging System (CCS) as the standard for charging battery-powered vehicles.

Volvo says, with the CCS, which will offer both regular and fast charging capabilities, electric car ownership will become increasingly practical and convenient – especially in urban environments that are ideal for EVs.

The CCS combines single-phase with rapid three-phase charging, using alternating current at a maximum of 43 kW, as well as direct-current charging at a maximum of 200 kW and the future possibility of up to 350 kW – all in a single system.

EV’s zero emission claims, in perspective

Another point of contention for EVs is the claim that the vehicles emit zero emissions. HEVs, PHEVs, and EVs are said to produce lower tailpipe emissions compared to conventional vehicles but emissions may be produced by the electrical power source.

The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) contends that EVs that use electricity as fuel produce fewer emissions than their conventional counterparts. When the electricity comes from renewable sources, EVs produce zero emissions.

Mapping out the “wells-to-wheels” carbon footprint, which include all emissions related to fuel production, processing, distribution, and use of EVs charged on a variety of North American regional grids, it says that the one exception (in the zero emissions concern) comes when the electric car is charged on a grid with a heavy mix of coal. This, UCS says, is an increasingly rare circumstance as coal plants are “retired or retrofitted for natural gas”.

Some studies also shed light on the role of EVs in curbing emissions. A recent report, by the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) indicates that widespread adoption of electric transportation, including electrification in the off-road sector, could dramatically cut down emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) and improve air quality. The report projects GHG emissions through 2050 to drop by as much as 64%, from light-duty vehicles, from the current levels.

The report credits the expanding range of EVs, such as the Chevy Volt and Nissan LEAF.


Volvo says it has already laid the groundwork for its rollout of hybrids and electrics, developing the Scalable Product Architecture (SPA) and Compact Modular Architecture (CMA), both of which can incorporate hybrid or all-EV powertrains. It plans to begin introducing at least one new chargeable vehicle each year, including an all-electric car in 2019.

Meanwhile, Tesla Motors is investing over US$4 billion into EV development by 2020; German automotive makers are also ploughing in US$7.5 billion into EV production by 2019.

Across the industry, some 24 new EV models are expected to grace the market before 2019, says the report.

Thus, the VW scandal not only jolted the entire automotive industry and instrumented stricter implementations of carbon emissions control, it has also thrust the EV sector forward.


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