EPA engineer says Feds are still monitoring accuracy of mileage ratings

The US Environmental Protection Agency is changing its practices and will be more closely monitoring automakers’ fuel economy ratings, according to Jeff Alson, a senior EPA engineer. Alson spoke at a University of Michigan conference last week and addressed questions from Automotive News about follow ups to the scandal last fall from Hyundai and Kia overstating mileage claims on several of their models.

The EPA is still analyzing the best way to communicate fuel-economy ratings to consumers, Alson said. Hybrids and electric vehicles complicate matter as they can perform differently depending on weather conditions and how they’re driven. Coming up with precise numbers for any vehicle isn’t possible, Alson said. “A good general rule of thumb is that real-world fuel economy is about 20 percent lower than the lab numbers,” he said.

The controversy is also taking place in the wake of controversy over Ford Motor Co. and EPA’s 47 miles per gallon combined city/highway ratings for the 2013 Ford C-Max and Fusion Hybrid. Consumer Reports said it was more like the C-Max getting 37 combined mpg and the Fusion Hybrid 39 combined mpg after conducting extensive driving test trips. Ford is facing a lawsuit in California from a man who says his C-Max hybrid isn’t getting the advertised rate of 47 mpg.

Questions are hovering over whether automakers will meet the high target of reaching 54.5 mpg fuel economy by 2025 and accompanying greenhouse gas emissions reductions. The US market is seeing fuel economy rise each year, but it will mean a big leap forward and additional incentive points coming from zero emission and alternative fuel vehicles. Lightening up vehicle sheet metals, platforms and components, and making engines more fuel efficient, is the biggest play in the game.

Alson expects the 2025 fuel economy standard to remain unchanged after a midterm review unless evidence shows up that the industry is making more or less progress than expected. The midterm review is expected to be completed by April 2018.

Overall, Alson said that EPA expects actual real-world fuel economy to only reach 40 mpg by 2025, up from about 20 mpg in 2010 and a projected 27 mpg in 2016. He had no comments on whether the regulatory requirement could be met through credits being applied to zero emissions and alternative fuel vehicles. It’s expected that Tesla Motors and other automakers with zero emission vehicles could apply their own credits and sell excess credits to other OEMs.

One of the problems for collecting accurate mpg ratings for automakers is making sure the data source is accurate. In light of the disconcerting mileage ratings, the EPA is adding equipment to its Ann Arbor, Mich., laboratory to spot errors and discourage automakers that might be attempting to get away with distorted numbers. By next fall, the EPA expects to be finished with a five-year upgrade to its National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory in Ann Arbor. Renovations include equipment that will allow EPA engineers to do their own cold and hot weather tests that they previously had to cover by auditing tests done at automaker labs.

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