By Jim Kerr

If you don’t understand emissions and how our vehicles comply with emissions standards, don’t feel you are alone. Even working in the industry, I find it very difficult to understand the varying emissions standards and what they mean for our vehicles and how they perform. Fortunately, there are people like William Craven, General Manager of Regulatory Affairs for Daimler AG, who have made it their mission to work with the government regulations and try to apply them to our vehicles. I say “try”, because Daimler, like every other auto manufacturer, builds cars for sale around the world, and what may work in Canada isn’t necessarily suitable for every part of the world.

As Craven said, “Emissions are a global phenomenon, as they can’t be held back by national borders. Local regulations, such as those in China or India, affect us all – on every continent – because, after all, our planet has only one atmosphere shared by the entire global population.” Taken in this context, it would appear to make sense that one set of emissions standards would be suitable for the entire world, but it is far from that reality. In fact, there is more diversity than there is commonality, and that all adds up to increased development costs for manufacturers, which in turn means a higher vehicle retail price for buyers.

Even in the United States, there is little in common. The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) sets different standards from CARB (California Air Resources Board). California emission standards are the tightest, where vehicles must meet Tier 2 Bin 5 standards, and thirteen other states will adopt these standards by 2012. Currently, British Columbia and Quebec are also interested in adopting these standards. Meanwhile, the rest of the U.S. and Canada are using the EPA standards, which are currently at Tier 2 Bin 8 level. For those not familiar with emissions standards, Tier 2 standards are stricter than Tier 1 standards were in the past. Each Tier is divided into 11 Bin numbers, with the lower numbers indicating fewer emissions than a higher Bin number.

The situation becomes more complex when you look at emission standards from other areas of the world. Craven tells us that in the U.S., the same standards apply to both gasoline and diesel engines, while in Europe, the standards apply only to diesel engines. Also, it appears that each emission standard and even the driving cycle that they are evaluated under is different.

Driving cycles are a standard specification where a vehicle is driven on a rolling road or load rollers with defined speeds and time periods. They include cold starts, acceleration, cruising, deceleration and braking periods. In Japan, the specifications for the drive cycle are different than in Europe, which are again different than in the U.S. This leads to different amounts of exhaust emissions from each different drive cycle, so even if the emissions standards were the same, the different drive cycles would create difficulties for some vehicles in meeting emissions standards.

Another standard that affects all vehicles and emissions is average fuel economy. Currently in the U.S., Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards are proposed to increase by 40 per cent by the year 2020 to an industry average of 35 mpg (U.S.), which is approximately equal to about 6.7 L/100 km. In the U.S., this is based on the vehicle class or “footprint”. By contrast, in Europe this is based by vehicle weight. Japan uses a completely different “Top Runner” approach, where the best vehicle in each class is used as the benchmark, to provide incentive to those not meeting the standards of the best.

This is just a brief description of the current state of affairs in the world regarding vehicle emissions and fuel economy standards. As you can see, there is a wide variance in both regulations and testing methods. This means that the vehicle you are driving has to undergo testing to meet several standards; sometimes, two or more variations of the vehicle have to be designed before they are ready for production. This adds to the cost of your vehicle.

But there is some good news. Technology is available that enables vehicles to increase fuel economy and decrease emissions at the same time. Direct fuel-injected gasoline engines can either operate on a homogenous air/fuel mixture such as they do now, where the mixture is equal throughout the charge, or they can operate on a more efficient stratified charge mode. The stratified charge mode does require ultra low sulphur gasoline, which is not available everywhere, including most places in North America. Once better-quality gasoline becomes available, just as ultra low sulphur diesel fuel is now available, the auto manufacturers can give us better fuel economy. The manufacturers have stated their case; the demand will come from consumers. Automobiles are much more efficient in emissions reductions than general industry, but they can become even better with a common set of worldwide regulations and better fuel in the pumps.

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