Motor vehicle specifications in Australia are being reviewed, and a private senator’s bill about improving fuel emissions has been tabled. These developments raise the question of the vehicle standards used in Australia. Can we do better? Can we also make our fuel go further?
Motor Vehicle Standards Reform
On 4 September 2014, the Australian Government released an options discussion paper for a review of the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989, the legislation which provides national specifications for new motor vehicles and regulates the supply of used imported vehicles to Australia. The discussion paper covers an extensive range of issues, such as achieving a balance between appropriate safety standards in line with international best practice, consumer access to vehicles at the lowest possible cost, and options considered by the recent Productivity Commission Report on Australia’s Automotive Manufacturing Industry, as the ending looms here of local vehicle production.
A key aspect of changing motor vehicle standards is harmonization of the Australian Design Rules (ADRs) with international regulations, given that, in the near future, almost all vehicles will be imported to Australia, based on models built to overseas specifications. The report points out that there are currently 62 active ADRs with 51 providing for safety measures, eight covering energy emission standards, and three dwelling on anti-theft measures. Of these, some 12 (one fifth) do not align to international regulations; another six are only partially aligned, in part due to more stringent local rules in which Australia uses unique requirements compared to Europe. The local requirements mainly refer to matters involving commercial and uncommon vehicle types. Meanwhile, the ADR 79 on Emission Control for Light Vehicles prescribes exhaust and evaporative emission requirements for light vehicles in order to reduce air pollution.
Vehicle Emissions Standards
Regarding the performance of the standards relating to vehicle fuel economy and emissions, the Australian Government’s Climate Change Authority (CCA) Research Report of June 2014 titled Vehicle Emissions Standards for Australia states that:
Australia lags many other countries in light vehicle efficiency. While the efficiency of Australia’s light vehicles is improving over time, more can be done…A standard that is achievable and would deliver significant benefits to Australia and Australian motorists could…set a target to reduce the emissions intensity of the Australian light vehicle fleet from its current level of 192 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre (g CO2/km) to 105g CO2/km in 2025.
The Australian Government’s National Transport Commission (NTC) 2013 information paper on Carbon Dioxide Emissions from New Australian Vehicles notes that:
In 2013 the national average carbon emissions from new passenger and light commercial vehicles was 192 g/km. This is a 3.4 per cent reduction from 2012 and is the third largest annual reduction since records started in 2002…There are many reasons why Australian light vehicle emissions are higher than in Europe and the United Kingdom. Some of the reasons include Australian consumer preferences for: heavier vehicles with larger and more powerful engines; a lower proportion of diesel powered engines; and automatic transmission.
Cheaper Transport Bill 2014
Responding to such calls to improve emissions, on 10 July 2014, in introducing the private senator’s Motor Vehicle Standards (Cheaper Transport) Bill 2014, Australian Greens Senator Milne said that:
This Bill would align Australia's fleet with the existing EU 2020 standards to achieve 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre for passenger vehicles by 2023—a three year delay. To put that into perspective our cars average 192 grams per kilometre, far higher than the global average….It will require the Climate Change Authority to review the effectiveness of the scheme and recommend to Parliament further targets beyond 2023.
So the CCA report proposes a standard of 105g CO2/km in 2025 whereas the Milne Bill opts for 130g CO2/km for 2020 and then a stricter 95g CO2/km for 2023. These would be significant goals for the car industry here.
Fuel Quality Standards
In response to the CCA report, the Australian Federal Chamber of Automobile Industries (FCAI) commented that it was ‘disappointed with the research report on light vehicle emissions standards’:
the report fails to take into account the need for complementary market fuel quality standards (i.e. 95RON 10ppm sulphur which is not currently available in Australia) to deliver CO2 targets similar to the EU.
As vehicle emissions control technology becomes more sophisticated, the quality of the fuels is a critical issue. The Fuel Quality Standards Act 2000, managed by the Department of the Environment, provides the capacity for the Australian Government to set limits on vehicle technology, vehicle operations, and those fuel parameters which affect environmental or health objectives. Clearly, if more fuel-efficient imported models require better fuel quality, then local fuel needs will change.