A portable emissions measurement system measures real-driving emissions on a Citroen C4. Photo credit: Reuters

A double shot of new emissions tests is shaking up the European auto market this year, disrupting production and sales, and weighing on automakers’ profits.

The two tests are the WLTP, or Worldwide harmonized Light vehicles Test Procedure, and its on-road companion, the RDE, or Real Driving Emissions. They replace the NEDC, or New European Driving Cycle, which has been criticized as understating emissions – especially of toxic nitrogen oxides — by not reflecting real-world conditions and offering loopholes for automakers.

EU rules have required new models to undergo the testing starting Sept. 1, 2017, but the real challenge for manufacturers has been to test existing models by Sept. 1 of this year. Many models have required new emissions equipment such as particulate filters – because the WLTP generally produces higher pollution figures – and testing stations have been operating nonstop. However, it is not clear whether all models can be certified in time.

“It’s like a multidimensional game of chess,” said Mark Fulthorpe, director of light vehicle production forecasting at IHS Markit. “People have not realized just what it was going to take to achieve this.”

Every variant of a model — thousands in all — must undergo testing, because different powertrain and option packages can affect carbon dioxide emissions. The WLTP is longer and more involved while tacking on the RDE adds time and complexity.

Any car not certified by Sept. 1 cannot legally be sold in Europe, although exemptions are available to manufacturers, a process known as derogation. That has meant an inventory balancing act for automakers. They need to quickly sell cars that are neither WLTP-compliant nor derogated, and at the same time do not want to build up unwanted stock of models that have already been certified.

Models pulled, output stalled

The new rules have “left automakers trying to sell their vehicles in Europe with little choice but to pull models from sale or stall production as they grapple through the regulatory minefield,” IHS said in a note in July.

The number of models requiring certification has led to bottlenecks at the agencies that perform emissions tests. TUEV Sud, one of about 20 organizations in Germany that do such tests, is running 24 hours a day, six days a week to accommodate the manufacturers ahead of the deadline, spokesman Vincenzo Luca said.

A complete test cycle for an engine family can take up to two months, Luca said, because the new tests are much more complicated than the NEDC. Traffic jams and other issues can mean that the RDE process must start all over. In addition, older models first certified under NEDC take much longer than ones designed for the WLTP, Luca said.

“It was clear to us and our customers that there would be a lot more testing than under the NEDC,” he said, adding that some manufacturers were very early in booking testing time, while those that came later might face delays. TUEV Sud can perform 12,000 tests annually at three facilities; it is increasing capacity at its Stuttgart facility, but that will not be ready until 2019. “Next year, there will be even more variants” including plug-in hybrids, which take more time to test than internal combustion engines, Luca said.

Automakers say they were not given enough time to prepare. Because the EU’s final WLTP regulation was not published until late July of last year, “it was simply not possible for a manufacturer to start WLTP testing ahead of this time,” a spokeswoman for European automotive industry association ACEA said.

“This is not an insignificant effort, especially considering that it comes at the same time that they have to deal with the new RDE regulation. Consequently, the process of obtaining EU approval has slowed, resulting in planned production being stopped or delayed,” she added.