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Cars fail to meet official fuel claims, Choice survey reveals

Paul Gover

EVERY new car in Australia is likely to use significantly more fuel than its official label.

New independent testing has shown that advertised fuel economy figures can be up to 30 per cent above the numbers likely to be achieved by owners in the real world.

The artificial laboratory tests used by manufacturers are easy to manipulate, and car makers use a range of “tricks” to get good numbers.

The test cars are optimised for economy and are driven by experts who are trained to maximise their test scores.

The testing procedure itself puts a higher emphasis on highway driving, despite the fact that most drivers spend their time in the suburbs.

Drivers lose out ... the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV used more fuel than claimed.

Drivers lose out … the Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV used more fuel than claimed.Source:Supplied

Consumer advocate Choice has identified more than 50 cars sold here that don’t meet their official fuel claims.

The figures rely on independent testing by the ‘Which?’ organisation in Britain.

“Which tested 200 cars and, of those, we identified 53 which are sold in Australia. All of them recorded higher readings,” said Choice spokesman Tom Godfrey.

“On average, the figures are 18 per cent higher. The fact is that consumers cannot rely on these fuel efficiency claims.

“Ultimately, this is about the hip-pocket nerve. If you’re relying on this information for budgeting then it’s all but useless.”

The facts ... Choice says the current system is not helpful.

The facts … Choice says the current system is not helpful.Source:Supplied

The report follows the recent emissions scandal involving Volkswagen deliberately rorting the system with cars which can recognise when they are being tested. The controversy has led to calls for the current laboratory test to be scrapped in favour of real world testing.

Car companies argue they are at least providing information which allows shoppers to compare between cars and complies with the regulations in force in Australia.

“The Australian Government sets the standard for measuring and reporting of fuel consumption of new light vehicles by an Australian Design Rule,” says Tony Weber, the chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries, the peak body for the car industry.

Real-world testing ... the Volkswagen emissions scandal has led to to calls for the current laboratory test to be scrapped.

Real-world testing … the Volkswagen emissions scandal has led to to calls for the current laboratory test to be scrapped.Source:AP

“It is surprising and extremely disappointing that a consumer organisation such as Choice has begun a an ill-informed campaign to influence public opinion, without undertaking appropriate research and information gathering.”

But Choice argues that the discrepancy in test results is hurting consumers, who can easily be misled on the sort of fuel economy they can expect outside a laboratory.

“The current system is not helpful and not giving consumers great information.

“Clearly, the way that the fuel efficiency ratings are generated in a lab test are not sufficient,” says Godfrey.

“Obviously, we need a better system. We need consumers to be able to make an informed decision. We want to see the Federal Government put something in place that is more realistic.”

Fuel rorting ... the instrument panel of an Audi car shows the petrol consumption.

Fuel rorting … the instrument panel of an Audi car shows the petrol consumption.Source:AP

Apart from rorting the system with cars that quickly shift to the highest gear to cut fuel use, and using expert drivers for the tests, the reporting system in Australia also shows a significant flaw in a heavy bias towards “country” driving. two-thirds of the distance of the testing replicates extra-urban driving.

Australia’s best selling car, the Toyota Corolla, officially uses 8 litres/100km in the city and 5 litres/100km in the country, so a 50:50 split would come to 6.5L/100km. But the combined figure on the showroom label is significantly better at 6.1 litres/100km.

There are moves in Europe to generate a new testing procedure that will produce genuine real-world economy figures, but nothing is expected to become concrete until 2017.

Until then, the FCAI is urging drivers to consider their own driving and only use the showroom numbers as a guide.

“It is important to understand that, no matter what test is applied in this area, different drivers will get different results, owing to differing factors such as where they live, how they drive and what they carry,” says Weber.