It’s all to do with how fuel economy is measured on new cars. The current system called NEDC (New European Driving Cycle) has been in place since 1992, and uses a laboratory testing of new cars to come up with an economy figure. The combined mpg figure is what you see on adverts for cars, but the system was invented long before hybrid cars, electric cars and even hydrogen powered cars became common.
It’s also been around long enough that manufacturers have figured out how to work the system to their advantage, producing unrealistically high results that normal users can’t ever hope to replicate.
From September, a new emissions test will come into force. Called WLTP, or the equally as cathy Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test Procedure’, the new test aims to better replicate real world driving experiences, and therefore provide a more realistic official economy figure.
It’s still a laboratory test, but it closes down a lot of loopholes, is more detailed and sophisticated, and uses a more modern style of driving, i.e. with harsher acceleration and higher speeds. These results will then be tested against cars driven on the road, the RDE, or Real Driving Emissions, part of the test. The figure from on-road testing will have to be within a certain range of the lab results, with the gap closing over the next couple of years as manufacturers get to grips with the new testing regime.
The end result is that most cars will see their official economy figures go down by around 20%, while CO2 emission figures will go up by a similar amount.
It’s important to note that cars won’t be getting thirstier and more polluting. A car that officially can manage 60mpg might see a new figure under WLTP of 48mpg, but nothing will change out on the road - the probably 45mpg it got will remain at 45mpg, despite the new test results suggesting a drop. Your car won’t suddenly be worth less, and you won’t be paying more at the pumps.
The main changes come in at the beginning of September when only cars tested under the new programme can be sold. That has left manufacturers in a tricky position, who are all trying to get every car tested at the same time. Some models are getting disappointedly high figures, while the lack of testing facilities mean many won’t get test results in time. Car companies are battling that by temporarily dropping some models.
That highlights the immediate problem facing the brands - there’s a lot of cars out there that have to be sold this month, one way or another. That, in turn, means there’s a unique opportunity for buyers to take advantage of the rapidly approaching deadline.
Dealers have two choices for all the stock they hold. Pre-register it before the end of the month and sell them at a discount later on, with any buyer technically being the second owner. Alternatively, they can discount the cars sharply and get buyers to register them before the end of the month.
There’s no downside for consumers. There won’t be any changes in taxation, with no surprise bills coming along later in life. There won’t be any changes in running costs. There won’t be any warranty issues. All that is happening is dealers are offering new cars at big discounts to shift pre-WLTP stock. They’re going to be registered one way or another, so why not get them onto a customer’s driveway instead of a dealer’s forecourt.
There are desirable and sensible family cars with sizeable discounts and you can expect double digit discounts on some cars. As the month goes on and stock remains unsold, the discounts are likely to get bigger.
The countdown to WLTP is on and, if you’re after a new car, you can take advantage of it. Just be quick.