Vor a few weeks, over the years, the technicians in Stuttgart-Untertürkheim were in the emissions measurement center and ate pizza's from cardboard boxes. The rest of the Daimler factory was abandoned, the flask closed, only on the test benches that you had made overtime. Again.
Already last year, the conversion to the new exhaust gas test procedure WLTP, which had to go through all vehicles, led to enormous problems for car manufacturers. It simply lacked the capacity for much more extensive testing on the test benches. The consequences were enormous: in the meantime produced vehicles could not be sold in Europe, because the approvals were missing. That put a lot of pressure on the profit of the car manufacturer. And this chaos could now be repeated.
Already in September this year, all vehicles must have undergone this certification process. The reason for this is the so-called "Second Law" of the WLTP legislation, in which further, new specifications are made. "We are currently in the middle of a new peak," says Volker Blum, who works for Daimler in the "EU Emissions and Consumption Certification" department. "By September, all vehicles must be re-certified, even though they were only certified for WLTP last year."
Daimler has risen to three teams
Actually the car manufacturers had thought that they would at least have more time for the second series of tests. A transitional period was planned until the end of 2020, but the requirements for the different test procedures and values that need to be revised were constantly changing, says Blum.
There are new rules for testing roads under real conditions, so called RDE trips, and it is now also necessary to check how much fuel evaporates from the tank when the car is not moved for 48 hours. Until now it was 24 hours. The combination of all requirements now means that the deadline for all vehicles to retry the tests is brought forward to September this year.
In order to ensure that the consequences are not as great as last year, Daimler's test bench capacities have been greatly expanded. The emission measurement center does not only work between the years; The values of the vehicles are now being tested in a system with three shifts instead of one and a half shifts, says the head of the center, Harald Behrendt.
Two new test benches are also being built, with a high two-digit number of new employees being hired to be able to pass extra cars. The capacity has already increased from 13,000 test hours per year to 20,000.
Further efforts by electric cars
This is also urgently needed, because the test procedure is expensive. On average, each vehicle requires two to three weeks for certification. The car does not spend the whole time on the test bench; There are also precise specifications regarding the conditions under which the vehicles must be parked for 12 hours between individual test runs. That is why the emissions measurement center also contains a large garage, where a maximum of 75 vehicles are waiting for their tests. Constant exactly 23 degrees outside temperature.
Even with the switch to models with electric motors, the employees of the Daimler measuring center will not be left without work – on the contrary. Although logically no exhaust emissions have to be measured. For this the technicians have to check how big the range of the electric cars is. Because the average speed during the test drives on the test bench is around 40 kilometers per hour, it takes up to eleven hours for a vehicle that can travel 400 kilometers with a battery charge.
In addition to driving on the test bench, all vehicles must also pass the so-called RDE test. During the process, the cars are driven in real traffic to obtain the most realistic values for fuel consumption and exhaust emissions. For this purpose, a mobile measuring station is attached to the rear of the vehicle.
Other manufacturers again expect huge problems because of the second WLTP round, even if you feel better prepared than a year ago. "We learned from our experience last year," says Jürgen Stackmann, Chief Sales Officer of the Volkswagen brand.
He said he was confident that it could mitigate the consequences, but in the second half of the year it can not be excluded that some models will no longer be available. Even a year ago the car managers were still optimistic; that could not prevent the chaos in autumn and winter.
Average production has increased in the past year
In addition, the exhaust gas values, which are determined according to the WLTP and RDE principles, are considerably higher than according to the previous unrealistic NEDC method. This is something that manufacturers like Daimler already feel. Because the CO2 targets that car manufacturers have to achieve in the coming years are becoming increasingly distant.
As early as 2021, the average CO2 emissions of the Mercedes fleet must have fallen to 105 grams per kilometer, otherwise fines of billions will be threatened. But last year the average production rose from 125 to 132 grams. This makes Daimler no longer 20 grams, but 27 grams away from the target.
It is not only the new measured values that have the blame, but especially the changed buying behavior of the customers. "The conversion of the legally prescribed measurement cycle of the CO2 emissions of the individual vehicles from NEDC to WLTP has significantly increased the value of our fleet", according to the Daimler annual report. "At the same time, the shift in sales of the diesel to the petrol engine and the continued increase in sales of larger SUVs and four-wheel drive vehicles have increased the fleet's carbon footprint."
And it will not get much better in the near future. "Since all vehicle models will be WLTP-certified in September 2019, we expect only slightly lower CO2 fleet levels for 2019, despite further progress in reducing fuel consumption by 2020, due to vehicle electrification, the CO2 footprint of the fleet considerably. "The electric cars therefore have to judge and reduce the average value. Whether this can actually happen in time is currently more than questionable.