This week’s revelation that Volkswagon deliberately cheated on official emissions compliance procedures with its diesel-powered cars is…well…mind blowing.
In case you haven’t heard, the brand inserted software into the ECUs in diesel-engined vehicles that detected when the cars’s emissions were being tested. During the tests, the cars behaved themselves and conformed to legally mandated tailpipe limits. But once back in normal operating mode, the engines reportedly spewed out up to 40 times the allowable emissions in order to improve on-road performance.
Prior to hearing this news, you wouldn’t have convinced me any major manufacturer would engage in shenanigans like that and risk the inevitable backlash and legal repercussions just to get some enhanced MPG and performance. The class action lawsuits are already piling on, while the official penalties for violating environmental standards and possible criminal proceedings haven’t even begun yet. VW is now in for trouble, to put it mildly.
The real cost of diesel engine emissions regulations will prove to be a very high one for VW. But the truth is, the cost of emissions regulations has been high for all automakers, truck and machinery brands, not to mention the end users of diesel-powered equipment, such as farmers.
Tightened off-road emissions regulations in the U.S. and EU have cost farmers money by driving up the purchase price of new, powered farm equipment. Senior executives at the major brands have made no secret of that fact. And critics of the emissions-limit strategy argue—with some truth—those same severe regulations only serve to defeat the lower emissions objective by making engines less fuel efficient. So they burn more fuel than before, producing even more emissions. That also adds to their true on-farm cost.
And those regulations have profoundly changed the industry in other ways, too. Some brands that once used only in-house engines have had to turn to outside power for many of their machines, because they just haven’t yet been able to meet emissions limits with all their engines.
Many farmers, truckers and construction companies have been frequently turning to used pre-emissions equipment for fleet replacements and doing what they can to prolong the life of older engines just to avoid having to operate newer Interim Tier 4 and Tier 4 Final engines.
But now that most new equipment has been upgraded, or is in the process of making the leap, to Tier 4 Final diesels, many in the new-equipment industry were breathing a sigh of relief that the task of meeting strict emissions levels was behind us. But any celebration on that front turns out to be premature.
News out of Europe this week is that off-road diesel emissions levels are about to be jacked up again, at least on that side of the Atlantic. “The new emissions regulation sets highly ambitious requirements in terms of environmental protection…” reads a joint announcement from CECE, CEMA and FEM, which are ag, construction and materials handling equipment associations. “as Europe will impose as of 2019 the strictest emissions limits in the world.”
That means another “stage” will be added to the EU off-road emissions regs for engines.
“The Commission proposed the introduction of a stage V for all NRMM (Non-Road Machines) types, with some emission limits aligning with US requirements, and some going far beyond them,” the statement explains. “The new NRMM regulation regulates particle number (PN) limits – or the number of PM present, regardless of their size – which will be introduced as part of stage V for most land, rail and water machinery.”
I’m not arguing that emissions limits aren’t important in the world today. Far from it. But this latest news does raise a lot of questions. Where does it end? How much more will this equipment cost manufacturers? Will the U.S. EPA match these regulations? If so we in Canada will have to accept that our new equipment gets the same treatment—and comes with the same additional costs.
At what point will higher costs like these stimulate development of alternative power plants like New Holland’s hydrogen-powered tractor?