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“Important standards are lacking”

“Important standards are lacking”

Dr. Arno Homburg coordinates the WLTP conversion in the Volkswagen Group. The Head of Group Whole Vehicle Engineering explains the pros and cons of WLTP and how the company is implementing the new test procedure for passenger car consumption values.

WLTP stands for “Worldwide Harmonized Light-Duty Vehicles Test Procedure”

Since September 2017, new consumption values are in effect for all new passenger cars coming onto the market. They are determined according to the new WLTP standard. WLTP stands for “Worldwide Harmonized Light-Duty Vehicles Test Procedure”. It initiates a globally standardized test procedure to determine fuel consumption and exhaust emissions.

Dr. Homburg, you are responsible for the Group-wide coordination of the WLTP project in the Volkswagen Group. The abbreviation sounds a little cryptic at first. What exactly do you and your team do?

Exhaust gas and consumption values for all new vehicles are now identified on the basis of the WLTP standard. Our job is to get all the Group brands and divisions ready for this. The questions involved are very specific, for example: What must each brand do? What is absolutely necessary for registering vehicles according to the WLTP? Which processes have to be adjusted internally? Who has to implement what?

If each brand does this for itself, why does it need you and your team?

My team functions rather like a conductor of a large orchestra. We ensure smooth operation across all divisions. We harmonize the introduction of the WLTP across the Group, and thus across all the brands. There are a great many individual tasks which are dependent on each other. A time delay for a single task can bring the entire chain of subsequent tasks to a halt.

Can you explain that in detail?

Our day-to-day work largely consists of classical project management. In other words, we track the contents and schedules of individual measures taken by each division. We also develop Group premises and harmonize processes across all brands. And finally, we ensure the mutual exchange of information and pass on Best Practice examples to other brands. WLTP is new for all of us – and that includes our external partners, such as technical services and authorities – which means that there is a great desire for the brands to share experiences. We regularly report on the information we have gathered to the Group Board of Management.

How long has your team been in existence, and how long is the project intended to run?

We have been working on this and in this constellation since May 2016. We will continue to support the brands until the WLTP is a standard process throughout the Group and is fully operational everywhere.

What do you think of the WLTP process in general? Is it a sensible step in your opinion?

For our customers, the WLTP means much more realistic CO₂ and consumption values for their cars. Because the driving cycle has been derived from real driving profiles gathered worldwide, and because individual special equipment is also taken into account, the values are much closer to actual consumption than they were previously. However, just like the previous standard NECD test, the WLTP is measured on a chassis dynamometer, which means it cannot completely replicate the individual driving behavior of our customers. The advantage of this method, however, is that it makes comparisons with other vehicles and manufacturers possible, since the measurements are always carried out within the same framework conditions and are reproducible.

The advantage of this method, however, is that it makes comparisons with other vehicles and manufacturers possible.

Do you see negative aspects of the WLTP as well?

Yes, certainly. For example, as a Group we now have considerably more costs when registering our vehicles. The transition period was also extremely short. After experiencing some delays, the WLTP law only came into force at the beginning of July 2017, but has already been in effect for all new vehicles since September 2017, and will be in effect for all vehicles as of September 2018. This has caused us to perform an absolute deluge of measurements within just one year. In addition, the quality of the law is not 100 percent perfect. There are many ambiguities and unconnected legislations, for example regarding the so-called consumption data directive for our customers. I am also quite concerned that, despite the name “WLTP” and contrary to the original intention, it is still not a global standard.

Why not?

Mainly because it has not yet been possible to standardize the test procedure worldwide. When we speak of introducing the WLTP, we are talking only about Europe initially. The WLTP that will be introduced in Japan and South Korea in the future has been modified in some of its parameters. It requires separate type testing. This means that testing must still be carried out according to different regulations in many regions of the world – Europe, China, the USA and the Near East. Because we at the Volkswagen Group have a very diverse range of products on offer, this ties up enormous amounts of our worldwide capacity and creates, in my opinion, unnecessary complexity.

How does the customer benefit from WLTP?

Firstly, the WLTP provides more realistic consumption values. It remains to be seen, however, whether that will still be so important to all our customers if the vehicle tax they have to pay is increased. Whether this happens depends on how the member states evaluate the conversion from NEDC to WLTP from a tax point of view. In our opinion, customers should not be disadvantaged by a new registration system. This is the case, however, if member states retain their CO₂ tax boundaries as in the previous NEDC and therefore impose a higher tax on the vehicles registered according to the WLTP. That’s because the CO₂ values will tend to be higher according to the WLTP test procedure than according to the old NECD standard, even though the vehicle is technically identical and the actual consumption has not changed.

What effects does WLTP conversion have on the Volkswagen Group’s products?

We are reducing the variety of engine gearbox variants. This reduces the complexity of our range. On the other hand, we have considerably higher costs, and considerably more of our capacity is tied up because of more labor-intensive type testing and authorizations.

What is the current status? Is everything running on schedule?

We are basically on schedule, but the previous year has taught us that unexpected things crop up again and again. These are new processes which have to be mastered for all concerned. The extremely short adjustment period can also result in temporary supply gaps.

What have been the greatest obstacles so far? Where do you still see potential for improvement? What would you like to see?

The EU Commission’s decision to switch to WLTP was made in September 2016, which was very late. The law was also only adopted shortly before it came into force in July 2017, contrary to previous communications. This meant that the response time for the automotive industry was extremely short. To adapt all engine gearbox variants to a new driving cycle within 14 months is a mammoth job and means everyone involved is deluged with type approval applications. It doesn’t help that important cornerstones such as the customer information law were simply “forgotten”. At the moment, for example, there is no national or European regulation as to the form in which the WLTP-related CO₂ and consumption data must be declared. Which data do we have to display to our customers, and in what form? Important standards are lacking, and there is still no legal certainty.

Important standards are lacking, and there is still no legal certainty.

What is the cooperation with the brands like?

Very positive. All the brands appreciate the Group-wide consolidation and benefit from exchanging experiences. After all, we’re all in the same boat. And we are learning every day. As coordinators, we of course have to rely on the brands setting their own interests to one side and working together with us for the good of the Group.

Have you encountered surprises or anything odd during the project?

Definitely. One oddity is that the legislation does not stipulate how the subsequent installation of special equipment is regulated. Also, the procedure for registering special vehicles such as taxis, police cars or emergency ambulances is not described. These points are not integrated in the contents of the WLTP and currently constitute a legal loophole. That’s very unsatisfactory for customers, and for us.