Vehicle emissions tests reveal real-world performance

Preliminary results from Australia’s first on-road vehicle emissions test program cast doubt over the relevance of laboratory testing and suggest consumers are commonly being misled.

Commissioned by the Australian Automobile Association (AAA), the test results also suggest forthcoming national emissions reduction regulations may be based on flawed assumptions.

In the wake of the Volkswagen scandal, the AAA commissioned the study of 30 vehicles to clarify how real-world emissions differ from those observed in a laboratory setting. Engineering firm ABMARC is using portable, laboratory-standard equipment to analyse emissions produced by vehicles driving in and around Melbourne.

Results show emissions of noxious gasses up to four times the regulatory limits, while greenhouse gas emissions and fuel consumption was up to 35 per cent higher than figures shown on the relevant Government-mandated Fuel Consumption Label, and 20 per cent higher on average.  Full results are due by mid-2017, however results from the first 10 vehicles are being released today to help inform two important Government reviews; the work of the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions, and the ACCC’s market study into the new car retailing industry.

AAA Chief Executive Michael Bradley said: “These results suggest that as emissions regulations around the world become more stringent, auto manufacturers are producing vehicles that limit emissions in the laboratory, but not necessarily in the real world.

“Proponents of stricter regulations say higher vehicle and fuel costs passed on to motorists will over time be offset by fuel savings, but our results undermine such assurances as savings accrued only in a laboratory are of little use to consumers in the real world.

“With the Government actively considering stricter standards for Australia’s vehicle and fuel sectors, it’s critical that real-world testing is introduced to ensure motorists aren’t asked to pay more for regulation that fails to deliver environmental benefit.

“The AAA notes that the European Union is currently transitioning away from relying solely on laboratory testing to improve the effectiveness of its emissions regulatory model and we encourage the Australian Government to do likewise.”

Currently, to comply with the Government’s Australian Design Rules, vehicle manufacturers must only meet noxious emissions standards in a laboratory test, and have laboratory-based fuel consumption information displayed on the Fuel Consumption Label at point of sale.

There is no way for Government or consumers to know the degree to which these laboratory results translate in the real world, when a vehicle is driven in Australian conditions using Australian fuels. Therefore, a continued reliance upon laboratory testing will clearly limit the market’s ability to encourage the uptake of lower emissions vehicles.

The AAA’s Transport Affordability Index shows the average Australian household spends around $17,000 per year on transport costs, while AAA national polling shows ‘fuel efficiency’ is the top consideration for about a quarter of Australians when buying a car.

“Only with accurate information can consumers encourage manufacturers to deliver cleaner vehicles into the Australian market,” Mr Bradley said. “And only with accurate information can the Government develop and police regulations delivering the maximum benefit to the environment at the least cost to Australian motorists”.

For more information on the AAA’s on-road testing program visit


Written by RACV
December 12, 2016