Volkswagen is turning to dealers in its push for revised emissions standards Down Under, arming dealer principals with a sternly-worded letter to hand their local member of parliament ahead of next year's Federal Election.
The company has been one of the most vocal campaigners for revised legislation around vehicle emissions and fuel quality in Australia, lest we join what it's dubbed the 'automotive third world'.
At the core of Volkswagen's argument is the technological divide forced by a growing gap between European and Australian emissions testing processes and standards.
Our current emissions standards (ADR 79/04) are based on Euro 5 rules, and were brought into force in 2011. Meanwhile, regulators in Europe are forging ahead with Euro 6.2 rules and the new, tough WLTP test procedure – the latter of which year left Volkswagen with huge backlogs as it raced to have key model lines approved.
The letter, shared with dealers today to be mailed to their representatives in government, begins:
"As a business owner and employer in your electorate, I write to draw your attention to a matter of grave concern.
"The advent of Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) this year in Europe will, in combination with Australia’s lack of progress in moving toward the Euro 6 emissions regime, impact adversely on car buyers.
"As of next year, Australians will no longer be able to access many of the world’s best practice and most efficient cars."
The Australian Automotive Dealer Association (AADA) threw its support behind Volkswagen's plan, with AADA CEO, David Blackhall, telling CarAdvice the body "regularly encourages our members to visit with local members of Parliament to discuss issues of importance in the automotive industry".
“In terms of vehicle emissions, we are strong supporters of moving to lower sulphur fuel which will enable Australian dealers to sell technologically advanced vehicles to their customers," Blackhall said.
Along with our emissions standards, the letter calls out our fuel standards. Right now, regular unleaded in Australia can contain up to 150ppm of sulphur, while premium is capped at 50ppm. In Europe, the cap is 10ppm. Our diesel standards are synced with those of Europe, and have been since 2009.
"Cars that are fitted with a petrol particulate filter cannot run on Australia’s fuel which has an exceedingly high sulphur content – some 50 parts per million [PULP] as opposed to the European standard of less than 10," the letter continues.
The ramifications of this are simple. When it's brought back from a WLTP-driven production stop, the Tiguan won't be offered with a 1.4-litre petrol engine in Australia, because its new petrol particulate filter will make it incompatible with our low-quality fuel. Given the Volkswagen Group's proclivity for sharing engines across its range, the issue is unlikely to be contained to the Tiguan model line.
"European carmakers have developed new state of the art engines," the letter adds, echoing closely the sentiment of VW Australia managing director, Michael Bartsch, from a media briefing earlier this year.
"A separate homologation program cannot be conducted for a comparatively small market where regulations lag behind. Nor can carmakers continue to supply what are by their standards outmoded drivetrains to suit our low fuel quality."
While not as pointed in his call to action, Nargar said: "We really need to come to an agreement, give everyone some clarity about what's happening so we can start planning for the future," he said, later arguing "the industry needs clarity. We need to get a decision made to move forward".
Although manufacturers, through the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), are pushing for clarity on emissions and fuel standards, the full chorus of voices in Australian motoring aren't on board.
One particularly prominent voice of dissent is the Australian Automotive Association (AAA), which is calling for a staged rollout of low-sulphur fuel between 2023 and 2027. It argues low-sulphur fuel, or the abolition of 91RON as tabled by the Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions, will add upwards of $400 to the average household fuel bill every year.
According to that same report, higher-quality fuel could reduce health costs by $371 million in the short-term, and $418 million in the long-term.
Volkswagen has put the AAA in its sights once already this year, and today did the same, saying the "AAA and the petroleum lobby espouse the flat earth position that first world petrol quality would increase the price of cars".
"In fact, the cost of certain cars will likely rise if Australia continues to lag behind Europe because of carmakers having to modify their engines to run on third world petrol."
We've reached out to AAA CEO Michael Bradley for a response, and will update the story when we hear back. When Michael Bartsch first publicly criticised the AAA, though, Bradley responded by saying his "characterisation of the AAA view" was "not correct".
"AAA submissions on this issue have explicitly supported changing Australia’s fuel quality standards to reduce air pollution, enable the supply of new vehicles with the latest engine technologies and allow the Government to introduce Euro 6 emission regulations and a CO2 standard for new light vehicles," he told CarAdvice earlier this year.