WLTP: What's all the fuss about?

Take a look at the new rules, and what they mean for carmakers in Australia.
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From September 2018, the World harmonised Light vehicle Testing Procedure (WLTP), a completely overhauled set of fuel consumption and emissions testing rules designed to replace the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) test, will come into force. By then, only WLTP-homologated cars will be allowed for sale in Europe.

The new testing process, a focus point for manufacturers for some time now, is at last having clear impact on European markets – and other regions that take cars from Europe, including Australia. In the coming months, the ripples will only continue to spread.

Here's a look at what the new test entails, what it means for car manufacturers and, more specifically, the impact it'll have on the Australian market.

How the new test works

As a replacement for the derided New European Drive Cycle, conceived in the 1980s, WLTP has been designed with input from European manufacturers. It relies heavily on data taken from real-world drive cycles to more accurately represent, you know, real-world drive cycles.

At 30 minutes, the new drive cycle is 50 per cent longer than the NEDC, and the 23.35km route is 12.25km longer than before. During a normal test cycle, cars are driven at low (up to 60km/h), medium (up to 80km/h), high (up 100km/h) and very high (beyond 130km/h) speeds.

As a result of the new speed cycles, the overall average speed on the test is 46km/h instead of 34km/h.

Unlike before, mathematical models are used to determine the difference between cars with unique specifications. That means big wheels, spoilers or heavy add-ons like a sunroof will also have an impact on fuel emissions. Maybe that 22-inch rubber and the panoramic sunroof weren't such a good idea after all.

Hybrid cars will be cycled with and without a full battery, for a more accurate CO2 reading in the real world. After all, owners don't always charge their plug-in hybrids before driving them, so recording both internal-combustion and electric-boosted CO2 figures makes sense.

When it comes into force

The rollout to WLTP actually kicked off in September 2017, at which point the European Union started testing under its new cycle. Car companies are already using the figures in their official materials, although some still quote NEDC numbers, and any vehicle registered from the start of September 2018 needs a WLTP rating.

That said, there are some exceptions for unsold cars reaching the end of their product cycle. Manufacturers don't have to dump/burn/push off a cliff any cars developed for older test regimes and emissions rules.

But it only applies to Europe, right?

Yes, sort of. Although it's only a legal requirement in Europe, car manufacturers are already adjusting their global line-ups to suit the new protocol.

That's because, under the new protocol, it's more difficult for cars to meet Euro 6.2 emissions regulations. The cycle is more strenuous, and the conditions different, meaning vehicles that might have once snuck beneath CO2 emissions targets now fall foul of those same benchmarks.

Other cars need new particulate filters to meet Euro 6.2 emissions on the new test. That means the manufacture of some models is being "rationalised" to make room for the required production and tooling changes.

What's changing in cars?

A PSA Groupe spokesperson helped us out with this one, explaining what is changing in the PureTech engines used in Peugeot and Citroen vehicles overseas. The changes are summarised below.

  • Petrol engines will get a particulate filter, to cut down on particulate emissions. Peugoet claims a 'filtration effectiveness' of over 75 per cent
  • More advanced emissions reduction systems thanks to more thermally-resistant materials, better exhaust temperature management and new catalytic technology
  • A new-generation oxygen sensor for more precise control of the air/fuel mixture in the cylinder and, as a result, 'optimised' combustion

According to the PSA spokesperson, drivers won't notice the difference between cars with a particulate filter and those without. The filtration system itself is different to those in diesel cars, although it fulfils a similar role.

Where diesel cars need to actively burn the soot collected in their filters (every 600 to 1000km) actively, the "regeneration of a filter in essence is continuous", or passive.

The net result of all of this is, hopefully, cars that more closely match their claimed fuel use figures in the real world.

Australia is affected?

Sure is! Currently in Australia, we certify cars using ADR 79/04 for fuel economy and emissions, but European manufacturers don't design their cars for those rules. Although we won't necessarily get the new, WLTP compliant engines, there'll still be repercussions Down Under.

There are two direct outcomes for our market:

  • Part 1: European carmakers will have to shuffle their line-ups because of changing production schedules
  • Part 2: The fuel standards debate in Australia is going to intensify over the coming weeks, months and years

Part 1: Manufacturers shuffling the magnets

Part 1 is coming into focus at the moment. Within the Volkswagen Group, we've seen the base Golf GTI manual, Skoda Octavia RS 245 manual, RS 169TSI and RS 135TDI axed from their relevant line-ups. Also gone is the Golf R manual, while we'd be surprised to hear the Audi S3 manual survive, although Audi wouldn't confirm details.

Despite Volkswagen's media arm arguing demand is the main driver for the death of the three-pedal VW performance car, production in Europe being "rationalised" is the real driver.

Basically, the factory in Europe is having its production schedule changed to accommodate all the requirements accompanying the new rules, and can no longer support the extra complication of all those models. Yes, demand is part of that, but we'd suggest Volkswagen would much rather offer the manual than not.

Not all European manufacturers will be shuffling their local line-ups. Mercedes-Benz says its current engine range and model lines will remain unchanged at this stage, although its new C-Class line-up may look different to the current one when it arrives. BMW wasn't able to provide any insights into its line-up post-WLTP. We'll have to wait until August for that, although we'll do plenty of pestering in the meantime.

Above: The Golf GTI manual is no longer.

Holden isn't anticipating any changes to its line-up – the Equinox, Trax, Astra Sedan, Barina and Trailblazer/Colorado aren't sourced from Europe, while the Astra and Commodore engines are, apparently, safe in their current forms.

Peugeot has paused production of the 308 GTi in Sochaux, France, as the plant prepares to outfit the car's 1.6-litre four-cylinder engine with a particulate filter. Local supply isn't impacted by the change, with the company confirming there are enough cars in the country/on a boat to fill the production break.

The end-of-life 208 GTi might not be so lucky. Why bother spending money to bring an old car into line with new regulations, especially when an all-new model is around the corner?

Meanwhile, Jaguar Land Rover is progressively announcing its model-year changes, but there have been no confirmed kills just yet when it comes to the engine line-up.

Part 2: Fuel standards debate intensifies

Mmmm, now we're getting into the juicy stuff. Talk about fuel standards in Australia has raged for years now, with manufacturers pushing for 'best practice' standards from Europe. Our current fuel sits in between 'sub-par' and 'third-world' in quality, especially when it comes sulphur content.

WLTP and tightening Euro 6+ emissions standards are forcing manufacturers to make their engines cleverer, with emissions-cutting tech like particulate filters becoming commonplace. Problem is, they don't necessarily work with our fuel.

Where rules in Europe limit the sulphur content in petrol to 10 parts-per-million (ppm), current Australian regulations allow 50ppm in premium and 150ppm in regular unleaded.

A report from ClimateWorks, an independent body aiming to inform the transition to zero-emissions motoring, says the push to higher quality fuel will open the door for "more advanced vehicle technologies with better emission control systems and more fuel-efficient engines" Down Under.

There's no guarantee that 'best practice' will be the practice we actually adopt. A report – there are lots of them in the world of politics – from the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions laid out three options for the future of fuel in Australia, having eliminated a number based on feedback from the public.

Three separate measures are up for discussion:

  • Adopting Euro 6 emissions standards
  • Revising fuel economy rules
  • Bringing our fuel quality into line with "best practice international fuel standards"

The first proposed path, dubbed Option B, would see 91RON fuel removed from sale as 95RON with 10ppm sulphur becomes the base option at Aussie fuel forecourts. A 35 per cent cap on 'aromatics' in fuel would also be added. These conditions are carried over into Option C, except 91RON fuel with a 10ppm sulphur cap would be retained.

Finally, the third suggested course of action puts a 10ppm sulphur cap on all fuel, with no further changes to our current standards.

What does the industry want?

The 'industry' is made up of many different bodies, people and companies, each with competing interests, but the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) is a good place to look for an all-around view of how the wider motoring industry feels. Horst von Sanden, Mercedes-Benz CEO in Australia, has recently taken over as president, and used his first speech to call for improvements in fuel standards.

"We need higher quality fuels, as we cannot achieve lower emission outcomes purely on engine management technology, we need fuel of First World Quality to get a First World emissions outcome," he told the crowd.

Tony Weber, the body's chief executive, was more specific. Speaking with CarAdvice about the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions report earlier this year, he said an aggressive push to high-quality fuel is "what is needed to drive engines today, and in the future".

"Our preferred option would be Option B," Weber told us, calling for 91RON to be removed from sale and replaced with 95RON with 10ppm sulphur.

"It provides quality fuel with 10ppm sulphur and 35 per cent aromatics, which is what is needed to drive engines and today and the future. If we are going to be serious in the country about environmental change, that's the fuel we need," he elaborated, before describing Option F as "not sufficient" for the future.

"We need certainty around these issues so the best products can be brought to Australia with clarity around what is the policy environment in which they will be sold."

Speaking with media at a briefing in Sydney, Volkswagen Australia managing director, Michael Bartsch, told journalists the switch to low-sulphur fuel is as significant as the move from leaded to unleaded.

"We’re becoming outsiders," Bartsch argued, in a long-winded conversation about local fuel standards. "It won’t be long before vehicles are going to have to be produced purely for these really poor sulphur content countries," he said.

The outspoken executive argues our current fuel simply doesn't support the emissions-cutting technology becoming prevalent on European engines, potentially turning us into a "dumping ground" for outdated powertrains. He also suggested our non-compliance with EU standards could cost the average consumer.

"If we don’t move with the time, then ultimately it will become dearer here – it will become dearer from a couple of points of view," he said.

"There’s always an opportunity cost when you don’t get real choice, so we’re going to lose choice here in Australia, and diversity in range."

He later elaborated, arguing Aussies will "start getting lower common denominator products and... we’ll start paying more for the cars, because they’ll start doing special testing and special engine runs" for our market.