Companies mimic EPA tests
Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
The discovery of Hyundai and Kia's inflated fuel economy ratings could call into question how automakers test and report such ratings going forward.
The EPA verifies the figures on window stickers by testing 10 to 15 percent of each year's models at its National Vehicle and Fuel Emission Laboratory in Ann Arbor, Mich. That's about 150 to 200 powertrain configurations per year.
Automakers produce the rest of the estimates -- using the government's standard testing procedures -- and they like it that way. Doing the testing offers control over scheduling. That means fewer delayed product launches.
"We work very closely with EPA to understand their testing procedures and make sure that we duplicate everything they would do," a Ford spokesman said. The idea is that "if we test a vehicle here, that same vehicle could go over to the EPA lab and the very same results would be delivered," he said.
Fuel economy testing of each vehicle at the Ann Arbor lab typically takes a week or two.
And signs suggest that the EPA will test more vehicles. EPA officials say the agency plans to continue its investigation into Hyundai and Kia. In addition, the EPA has a broader, ongoing audit program and the Obama administration has requested more money for the Ann Arbor laboratory.
In February, the administration asked Congress for an extra $10 million for the lab during the 2013 fiscal year. The proposed budget containing that allocation was not approved, but the EPA says it needs the money to expand "certification and compliance testing programs."
For now, interest groups aren't pushing hard for the EPA to assume more of the testing duties handled by automakers.
Roland Hwang, director of the transportation program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, said doing that would take many more employees and much more money.
"At this point it's hard for me to see how EPA could adopt a system where there's not some level of self-reporting," Hwang said. "It's the volume of data coming out, the number of models. They just don't have enough resources to do all the testing."
Gloria Bergquist, a spokeswoman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, a lobbying group whose 12 members include General Motors, Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor North America Inc., said regulators noticed Hyundai and Kia's incorrect estimates, so there's no sign of a broken system that justifies big changes.
Still, "the government may need to explore and find out what the problem was," she said, because "we haven't seen this problem in the past."
You can reach Gabe Nelson at firstname.lastname@example.org.