Emissions Inequality

Friday 11th March, 2011
Last year, in a blaze of publicity, Volvo launched their Emissions Equality campaign.

With talk of Think Tanks comprising of influential journalists and policy advisers it offered some good aims, particularly to look at all emissions from vehicles, not just CO2. There are plenty of other harmful pollutants that come from cars such as Nitrogen Oxides (NOx), Carbon Monoxide (CO) and diesel particulates.

This all felt a bit odd from a company that was, at the same time, lobbying the Mayor of London to allow its new diesel engines exemption from the London Congestion Charge; as they had a low CO2. Volvo were proud to chauffeur passengers all over London in their new DRIVe range of "low emission" (CO2) vehicles as part of the celebration when those congestion charging rules changed. The same rule changes removed exemption from cars such as the Honda Insight which actually have CO levels nearly 3 times less that of the Volvo V50 DRIVe but also almost a whopping 20 times less NOx pollution.

According to the VCA, the Vehicle Certification Agency that produces all the emissions statistics for the Government, NOx Emissions "react in the atmosphere to form nitrogen dioxide (NO2) which can have adverse effects on health, particularly among people with respiratory illness. NOx also contributes to smog formation, acid rain and can damage vegetation". Pretty nasty stuff, especially when you read that London has some of the worst air pollution in Europe.

So why, if they care so much about all emissions, did Volvo lobby the Mayor of London resulting in changes that removed exemption from the Honda Insight, which emits just 7mg of NOx per km and allowed exemption for cars like the V50 DRIVe which emits a massive 139mg/km. Other cars, like the Nissan Juke and Porsche Panamera Hybrid also fail to achieve Congestion Charge exemption, despite having NOx emissions of just 1g/km - the lowest of the 2776 cars in the VCA database.

So what else, apart from illogical congestion charge changes did Volvo bring to the table? Well, in conjunction with Clean Green Cars (a site which mainly allows you to view cars sorted by CO2 emissions) they brought us a rather novel iPhone App. Available for free in the iTunes store, the Emissions Equality app allows you to "find the overall effect of any NEW car on local air quality."

It sounded too good to be true, so I checked it out and it appeared to do what it said on the tin. I've found it an invaluable reference to vehicle emissions when on the move, it uses that same VCA data from which I quoted earlier - or does it?

Actually, there's a big problem here. At the time of launch, the Emissions Equality app did indeed show the details for any new car, or at least those in the VCA database. At that same time, vehicles sold in the UK only needed to conform to Euro 4 regulations for emissions. Many cars on sale did not comply with the upcoming Euro 5 regulations but, obviously, the new Volvo DRIVe range did. Volvo's new "clean" range of diesels can easily be found among the pages of the app.

But what's missing? Well, Euro 5 didn't come into full effect until January 2011 - some months after the app was released. As a result, many car manufacturers left it until the release of their 2011 models to comply with the regulations. Incidentally, these same regulations allow petrol cars to emit just 60mg/km of NOx whilst diesel cars are allowed 3 times as much with 180mg/km? Why the imbalance?

So, as most of the Euro 5 compliant models were released in 2011, they aren't in the app..at all. Of the 2776 Euro 5 vehicles currently in the VCA database, 1488 of those have been updated since the August 2010 database was imported into the Volvo Emissions Equality App.

A quick glance at a few well known models shows some obvious failings, with new models like the Porsche Panamera Hybrid, Lexus CT and changed models like the Lexus IS 200d not listed at all. Other models are listed but only show the older, dirtier, Euro 4 compliant models. The Mazda RX-8 and Honda Civic Type R, withdrawn from sale due to lack of Euro 5 compliance, are still clearly listed.

If you're going to produce an app with "Equality" in its name, you need to ensure that is the case. Putting your newer Euro 5 models alongside other old Euro 4 models is not "Equality" it's "Imbalance". Without regular updates, this app is not only useless it's misleading consumers and giving them bad advice about which is the cleanest model in their target class. Which car has the lowest emissions in the luxury segment? According to the app, that would be the MY2011 Volvo S80 V8 AWD Auto (A6). But is that really true? Um, no. It emits 8.5 times more Carbon Monoxide, 25 times the Hydrocarbons and 21 times the NOx of the Porsche Panamera S hybrid. According to the app, the Volvo has an emissions count of 131mg/km and a lovely green A grade rating. The Porsche scores just 12mg on the same criteria. That's not a typo, it's less than 10% less than the "lowest in class" Volvo.

I used to recommend this Emissions Equality app - needless to say, it's no longer on my Christmas list.

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