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Van makers: reveal your CO2 secrets

Date: 12 December 2007

Guy Bird is our editor-at-large and political columnist

Two van makers, Peugeot and Mercedes, will publish emissions and economy figures across their ranges from January, but for how long are the rest going to drag their long wheel-based feet, asks Guy Bird?

"I'd love to publish the data but it's just so-ooo complicated, there are loads of variants you know"; "If our customers get worse economy than our quoted un-laden figures they might get upset with us"; "Why should we publish if our rivals aren't". "We've got nothing to hide, but they're only available on request right now."

Believe it or not, the quotes above are not from ancient history but paraphrased from a bunch of van makers' representatives giving their reasons for 'withholding' LCV CO2 and mpg data last week.

Frankly, I'm amazed they've managed to avoid publishing at least mpg figures - let alone CO2 - for this long.

Van makers have collected their own mpg info for years, but without agreement (or legislative coercion) on an independent level-playing field test method (like passenger cars have had for years) their almost collective argument has been that their figures could mislead. From January 1 2008 that level playing field arrives as an EU stipulation means all LCV makers will have to 'monitor' CO2 and mpg for all new vans. The test will be the passenger car cycle and vans will be unladen. There's still no EU stipulation to publish that data just yet - but it will come in time, probably as some sort of 'fridge-style' colour-coded labeling scheme akin to the one used for cars already.

Of course, vans are designed to carry stuff so an un-laden figure isn't ideal, but a base like-for-like mpg figure to compare models has to be more useful than no info at all.

“All the guff about there being too many variants of van to make it feasible is a whitewash too.”

Guy Bird

Yes, big fleets may get to test a variety vans with their likely day-in, day-out payloads and driving cycles to obtain real-world figures, but smaller fleets don't necessarily have that resource or expertise. They just want a starting point, although no-one's kidding themselves it's anything but, just as combined mpg car figures rarely match real-world car driving, due to extra passengers, lead-footed drivers and lack of a following wind.

All the guff about there being too many variants of van to make it feasible is a whitewash too. The detail of the EU Directive allows for vehicles within a model family to record the same CO2 figure within a small weight/percentage variance. There are only a few van models per manufacturer and although there can be many potential variants for each, the bulk of sales tend to fall within a relative few. For instance, Mercedes Sprinter product manager John Reed - who is preparing to publish such data come January - says 70% of the Sprinters he sells are of one type and has admitted he's not having every possible permutation tested. He reckons some kind of agreed percentage CO2 and mpg assumptions can be made for more exotic, odd-shaped and/or heavier variants that might need a figure for potential future taxation purposes. How much mpg and CO2 difference does greater payload or a long wheelbase really make anyway? Look at Peugeot's figures for its Expert - already published online - and the answer is not much: within 10g/km of CO2 and 3mpg.

Given the political pressure to improve the emissions and economy of all transport, plus the likely alignment of van taxation to CO2 in the future, does anyone within the industry really think vans will be allowed a continued exemption on the basis that they're tricky to measure? It's time van makers stopped procrastinating on this topic and became transparent.

Most van makers now have great engines a world away from the unresponsive smokers of old, and publishing the data will only encourage the development of even better ones sooner.