Real-world emissions ratings could help car industry rebuild after Covid-19 crisis
22 April 2020
Author: Simon Harris
New real-world data on vehicle emissions will allow revitalisation of an automotive industry and global economy devastated by the Covid-19 outbreak but with cleaner air and reduced impact on climate change, according to the AIR Alliance.
Its AIR Index identifies the cleanest cars to give buyers confidence to switch to cleaner vehicles and restore the automotive industry badly impacted by the pandemic.
The freely available ratings database is the result of rigorous on-road testing according to the legal standard method, CWA17379. It details real-world nitrogen oxide (NOx) and carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions - key pollutants that are measured to assess air quality and climate change.
It shows that clean and efficient vehicles, which have low NOx and low CO2 emissions already exist, without having to wait for new technology at scale.
As the world marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day today, the Air Index data can allow the revitalisation of the industry but also lock in the improved air quality that has been a result of the global lockdown.
Published by the AIR Alliance (AIR), the AIR Index demonstrates the risk of selecting vehicles based only on the official emissions figures that are not detailed enough to identify the cleanest cars. A Euro 6 vehicle may be clean, or it may be dirty, but the official data do not give enough clarity to differentiate.
Existing hybrid technology can deliver significant reductions in CO2, while some carefully selected internal combustion engines now achieve extremely low levels of harmful emissions.
Both products are already widely available, do not force buyers to change behaviour and do not require government subsidy at a time of extreme fiscal challenge.
Nick Molden, co-founder of AIR said: "As the world emerges from the impact of COVID-19, legislators, manufacturers and buyers have an opportunity to focus on the cars that will limit the rise in pollution generated by economic recovery.
"Freely available to everyone, including car makers and policy makers, we want to put valuable information in the hands of those who can effect real change.
"It's fitting that on Earth Day, where millions of people would have physically joined together to celebrate 50 years of campaigning for a cleaner climate, we have a trusted online database that can lead to lower emissions right across the globe."
Covering hundreds of vehicles, the AIR Index details vehicle emissions information and rates each from A (the best) to E (the worst) following multiple on-road tests.
As a not-for-profit organisation, the AIR Alliance is independent from the car industry and, with the largest database of test results, it shows how vehicles perform consistently in real-world use.
Currently, European cities are experiencing a drop in harmful emissions, including NOx, as well as CO2, as lockdowns have massively reduced vehicle numbers on the road.
The challenge, and opportunity, is to enable the return to mass mobility without returning to the high levels of pollution prior to the pandemic.
With evidence that poor air quality is linked to a faster spread of coronavirus, the AIR Alliance is calling on national governments, regions and cites, as well as the automotive industry to take a pragmatic approach and use this to speed up their route to reduce emissions.
Already there are calls for ways of stimulating the recovery of the automotive industry including the revival of scrappage schemes that offered incentives to new car buyers who wanted to trade in old, high emission vehicles.
Molden added: "Of course, there are plenty of ways to try to address the issue of reducing emissions, but incentivised schemes would be immensely expensive at a time when governments and consumers are facing unprecedented challenges. The AIR Index provides data to allow a much more targeted approach, and it is a free and quick solution. We know official emissions ratings are not good enough, but our real-world testing and results allow the right choices to be made.
"It's clear from the data that the Euro 6 standard, for example, is not sufficient if governments, vehicle manufacturers and legislators are serious about addressing the problem of climate change. The free-to-use AIR index data provides a robust framework on which to base any air quality or climate change strategy."
"Good air quality should not be a luxury, it is something that, from a public health point of view, we should require and, if nothing else, the COVID-19 crisis has revealed the benefits of cleaner air. We should be taking positive steps now."
The data will allow the automotive industry to concentrate on the cars that make a real difference today and, ultimately, create an environment that will lead to its recovery in a world where clean vehicles will be the norm rather than the exception.
While the adoption of battery-electric vehicles (BEV) continues, the AIR Index shows that hybrid vehicles do offer a short-term solution to reducing emissions while other technologies gather pace, including the latest clean and efficient Euro 6 gasoline and diesels. They also reveal that some older Euro 6 compliant 'clean diesels' remain part of the problem.
AIR is an open alliance of like-minded members. Any organisation, public or private, that shares its values and manifesto is encouraged to join.
Leading scientists have recognised the importance of the AIR Index and are urging car makers to utilise the figures in order to build cleaner vehicles.
Dan Carder is a member of AIR's Scientific Advisory Committee and, director of the Centre for Alternative Fuels, Engines and Emissions at West Virginia University, led the team that published the earliest evidence that Volkswagen was cheating in US emissions tests uncovering the scandal which became known as Dieselgate.
He said: "The AIR Index provides objective, independent, and publicly available assessment of vehicles' actual NOx and CO2 emissions during real driving in urban environments.
"It has the power to inform and shape how vehicles are used, in order to limit the environmental impact of economic recovery."