AUSTRALIA'S fuel quality is still apparently not suitable for the latest high tech engines - despite Porsche this week claiming its updated Macan SUV was the first car sold in Australia with a petrol particulate filter.
Further investigation found Porsche has in fact not fitted particulate filters to its latest model sold in Australia, contrary to initial reports.
Porsche shocked the car industry - and its fellow German brands - by announcing the technology leap.
European car companies have long claimed Australia is missing out on the latest engine technology because our unleaded petrol is allowed to have up to 50 parts per million of sulphur rather than the maximum 10 ppm mandated in Europe.
German brands such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz and Volkswagen have so far excluded from Australia cars equipped with petrol particulate filters amid concerns our fuel would clog filters and choke engines.
So too has Porsche, for now, although CarAdvice understands Audi is also planning on introducing cars with petrol particulate filters in Australia but is yet to outline which models or when they will arrive.
Porsche says it stands by its original statement that the Macan turbo V6 petrol has been tested (for the past two years) on Australia's premium unleaded fuel and that it ran without fault.
However, when it came to production, Porsche Australia did not import the version equipped with a petrol particulate filter. Those models are sold in approximately 28 countries in Europe. Porsche's U-turn means there is still no car on sale in Australia with a petrol particulate filter.
Volkswagen says Australians are missing out on some of the most efficient engines in its European line-up and also stand to miss out on a new generation of fuel misers due in coming years because they are required to run on 10 ppm sulphur fuel.
A statement from Volkswagen Australia said: “When our company can be 100 per cent assured that the petrol particulate filters fitted to its new generation of engines are compatible with the petrol coming out of Australian pumps, it can begin to sell these cars to Australian customers.
“Our regional neighbours, including New Zealand in the last year, have moved to the European petrol standard. Australia has had European standard diesel for a decade. The increasing number of Australians who buy European cars already pay a heavy impost for imported premium unleaded because their vehicles cannot function near to optimum on regular unleaded.”
Porsche Australia says it has tested the new Macan on Australian fuel and claims our 50 ppm premium unleaded does not adversely affect the particulate filter in the new turbo V6 petrol engine in the updated Macan.
Since confirming Australian Macans are not delivered with particulate filters, Paul Watson, Porsche Australia’s technical representative, says he stands by his original statement that the company is “more than confident” the engine management system’s regeneration programs would “handle our sulphur content”.
Because premium unleaded in Australia can be up to 50 ppm “part of the engine management is to run (regular) regenerations,” he said in his initial briefing to media.
“You all know the horror stories about particulate filters on diesels,” says Mr Watson. “Part of the (reason) we don’t expect to have any problems with these is (because) petrol exhaust gas temperature, as a round number, is about 200 degrees hotter than the diesel (emissions). So burning away the soot particles, which is what the particulate filter is supposed to do, is much less of a problem on a petrol than it is on a diesel.”
Porsche says the engine software “can also artificially inflate the exhaust gas temperature on a petrol engine much easier than we can on a diesel engine, so we can manipulate engine management and get exhaust gas temperature up”.
Mr Watson added there was “no need to rev the engine at more than 2000rpm for 15 minutes” like you do in a diesel to burn off soot in the particulate filter.
The Australian Institute of Petroleum has so far resisted calls to upgrade our premium unleaded fuel from 50 ppm to 10 ppm because it says the cost at the bowser would increase.
The petroleum industry says Australia’s four remaining refineries would need to be updated at a combined estimated cost of $1 billion. The current forecast to upgrade local refineries is the year 2027, so the work can be done during scheduled rolling shutdown periods.
However, the AIP says, independent testing has repeatedly shown premium unleaded petrol at the bowser to be as low as 20 ppm because some batches of imported fuel are blended with 10 ppm.
Petrol industry insiders say premium unleaded at the bowser is “rarely” near the 50 ppm limit and Australians are getting better fuel than what they’re paying for.
Australian petrol prices are currently fourth-cheapest among OECD countries and sixth-cheapest for diesel.
Local diesel refineries were upgraded to produce 10 ppm fuel from January 2009, however the same investment is yet to be made in petrol refineries.
The car industry claims that, in the interim, Australian fuel suppliers should import 10 ppm premium unleaded to enable the sale of cars with new super-efficient engines.
The Federal Government is yet to set new vehicle emissions standards, but one proposal aligns Australia more closely with European regulations.
Australia has lagged behind European vehicle emissions standards for decades. When Europe introduced 'EU2' emissions regulations for petrol vehicles in 1993 Australia did not follow suit until 2003.
Australia's current petrol vehicle emissions standards are the same as those introduced in Europe in 2009. The 'EU5' rating was mandated in Australia in 2016 – two years after Europe had already moved to the stricter 'EU6' rating.
This reporter is on Twitter: @JoshuaDowling