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Making sense of vehicle emissions tests

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After the tightening of emissions testing and the introduction of the Vehicular Emissions Scheme (see below), the National Environment Agency (NEA) is now accepting results of the Worldwide harmonised Light-duty vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) for type approval of new cars and for Vehicular Emissions Scheme reporting.

Somewhat confusingly, the older New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) and Japanese Driving Cycle (JC08) figures will continue to be accepted ‘till local industry is ready for a complete switchover to WLTP,’ according to NEA.

WLTP is a newly-devised European test procedure that replaces the NEDC, which was a laboratory-based test procedure at the centre of a scandal when it was found some manufacturers had devised a cheat, whereby the vehicles could detect the test situation and alter settings to get better results.

The procedure, also developed by the European Union, more closely resembles real-world driving situations, and is likely to show slightly worse test results, depending on the vehicle.

Under both NEDC and JC08 procedures cars were subjected to a 20-minute test, the NEDC covering 11km, including two phases – 66% urban and 34% non-urban driving. The JC08 test covered 8.2km and 80% urban and 20% non-urban driving conditions.

Obviously, harmonising these different test procedures makes sense, and the WLTP procedure increases the chances that the results will reflect real world driving conditions more accurately. The WLTP test procedure takes 30 minutes, covers 23.25km and includes four more dynamic phases (52% urban and 48% non-urban).

Comparing apples with oranges when buying a new car?

Here’s where it gets confusing: while the results of all three test procedures are being accepted – which could be as long as three years – buyers of new cars are likely to be comparing apples with oranges somewhat when relying on the Fuel Economy Labelling Scheme to make their purchasing decision.

As the label reflects the results of the different test procedures, buyers should be aware that WLTP-tested cars will likely look like poorer performers than cars using the old standards, even if in real-world driving conditions they actually perform better.

That said, the test procedures are used to calculate VES banding rebates and surcharges, meaning WLTP-tested vehicles may cost more to own, if the new test tips them into a poorer-performing VES band. As these bands are set by the local authorities and the Singapore car market is so small, it is unlikely that any manufacturers will modify vehicles to perform to these specifications. A more likely outcome is the distributor paying to test the vehicle under the older standards while they are still being accepted, but only if that test affects the VES banding.

More models to be approved under WLTP

The testing data is provided by vehicle manufacturers to the LTA for type approval – meaning approval to sell that particular model in Singapore – so expect an increasing number of new models to be approved using the WLTP procedure. Some manufacturers no longer have NEDC data available, which is arguably the catalyst for the change.

What is the Vehicular Emissions Scheme?

The Vehicular Emissions Scheme (VES) replaced the Carbon Emissions-Based Vehicle Scheme for all new cars, taxis and newly imported used cars from 1 January 2018.

VES assesses vehicles on carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, as well as hydrocarbons (HC), carbon monoxide (CO), nitrogen oxides (NOx), and particulate matter (PM).

The VES rebate or surcharge for the vehicle is determined by the worst-performing pollutant of the five being assessed.

VES Banding Rebates and Surcharges

Bands

CO2
(g / km)

HC
(g / km)

CO
(g / km)

NOx
(g / km)

PM
(mg / km)

Rebate/
surcharge (-/+)
for cars ($)

Rebate/
surcharge (-/+)
for taxis ($)

A1

A1

≤90

A

≤0.020

A1

≤0.150

A1

≤0.007

A1

= 0.0

-20,000

-30,000

A2

90

A2

≤125

0.020<

A2

≤0.036

0.150<

A2

≤0.190

0.007<

A2

≤0.013

0.0<

A2

≤0.3

-10,000

-15,000

B

125<

B

≤160

0.036<

B

≤0.052

0.190<

B

≤0.270

0.013<

B

≤0.024

0.3<

B

≤0.5

0

0

C1

160<

C1

≤185

0.052<

C1

≤0.075

0.270<

C1

≤0.350

0.024<

C1

≤0.030

0.5<

C1

≤2.0

+10,000

+15,000

C2

C2

>185

C2

>0.075

C2

>0.350

C2

>0.030

C2

>2.0

+20,000

+30,000

From Land Transport Authority

The Vehicular Emissions Label displays emissions in each class, fuel economy, and whether the vehicle attracts a $0, $10,000 or $20,000 rebate or surcharge to the car or taxi’s Additional Registration Fee. Apparently only fully electric vehicles qualify for the full $20,000 rebate under the new scheme.

What does this all mean for drivers?

For existing owners the introduction of the WLTP doesn’t change anything, as it is only applicable to new vehicles.

The testing procedures put in place at the beginning of 2018 that tightened the standards, and added a hydrocarbon test to the annual tailpipe emissions test procedures remain in place.

Note that older vehicles have different standards that reflect the standards of the time, and that vehicles registered after April 1, 2014, also have a ‘high idle’ test as well.

In-use standards for petrol driven motor vehicles, other than a motorcycle

Petrol Driven Motor Vehicle, other than a motorcycle

Idle

High Idle

CO
(Vol%)

HC
(ppm)

CO
(Vol%)

HC
(ppm)

Vehicles Reg. before 1 Oct 1986

6.0

1200

-

-

Vehicle Reg. on or after 1 Oct 1986 but before 1 July 1992

4.5

1200

-

-

Vehicles Reg. on or after 1 July 1992 but before 1 Jan 2001

3.5

1200

-

-

Vehicles Reg. on or after 1 Jan 2001 but before 1 April 2014

1.0

300

-

-

Vehicles Reg. on or after 1 April 2014

0.5

-

0.3

200

Lambda2: 1±0.03

1 Measurement at high idle speed, engine speed to be at least 2,000 revs/min.
2 Lambda is the quality of intake air divided by the theoretical air requirement of the engine

Source; NEA.

These newer standards, particularly the hydcocarbon measurement, tend to show how well vehicles are being maintained – a high HC reading indicates that the fuel is not being efficiently burned or that the engine is burning oil.

If the problem is unburned fuel, it is likely to be something that can be rectified with a tune-up by a qualified mechanic.

If the problem is oil – a telltale sign of this is a smoky exhaust – then the issue is more likely to be wear that can only be fixed with an expensive engine rebuild, though there are other potential causes. Owners of smoky vehicles can be fined up to $2,000 for the first offence and $5,000 for subsequent offences, if convicted in court.

And motorists who leave their vehicle engines idling can be fined up to $2,000 for the first offence and $5,000 for subsequent offences, if convicted in court.

Why the changes?

According to the World Health Organization, air pollution is the biggest environmental health risk. Singapore’s air quality is comparable with many major cities in developed economies, but Singapore’s air quality targets are not being met for pollutants such as ozone and particulate matter – figures from 2016 show ozone levels in Singapore about 15% above the 2020 target, and particulate matter (PM10) 30% above the 2020 target for the annual mean.

NEA reckons the introduction of the new standards will help Singapore reach its 2020 targets.

By motoring expert Tony Tan

Wherever you go, whatever you do, it’s vital to have good car, motorcycle and travel insurance cover.
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