LCVs will be subject to the same emissions test changes this year as cars were in 2018

For many in the automotive industry, 2018 was about one four-letter acronym – WLTP. Standing for ‘Worldwide Harmonised Light Vehicle Test’, the four letters ‘WLTP’ had a big impact on the car industry last year, and in 2019, it’s the van world’s turn.

However, given the widely reported problems with the implementation of WLTP in the car world – including delays in vehicle orders, stock issues, poor communication and unsold cars – those in the van industry will be hoping lessons have been learned before the next deadline this September.

These are the factors that will determine whether or not WLTP makes its way into the van industry smoothly or not.

 

PRODUCT AVAILABILITY

Some manufacturers had real issues getting cars tested in time for the deadline on September 1 last year, which led to dealers struggling to get stock and customers experiencing significantly extended lead times.

Simon Cook, Arval’s LCV leader, said: “The biggest noise I heard was a big delay of Audis and VWs and getting them on to company car lists.”

However, he didn’t feel that this would be so much of an issue for the van world.

“The manufacturers will be more prepared,” he said. “I don’t think there will be an impact on the availability of product. My caveat is when there is a product launch that coincides with the deadline and they are working towards the new car being compliant – if there is any delay to the product launch then there might be a bit of a bleed over of delay because they were already delaying for the new model.”

 

CONVERSION CLARITY

Under WLTP, a manufacturer can no longer simply put a vehicle through a test and then send it out with lots of different aftermarket equipment on it. Larger alloys, heavy options and add-ons that affect aerodynamics will all result in a vehicle needing to be retested.

Given the number of commercial vehicles that head out into the world with some form of conversion – be it a different body or weighty internal racking – there are potentially many more vehicles that will need to be tested.

James Davis, customer strategy and insight director (commercial vehicles) at Cox Automotive UK says that there are many questions to be answered on this front. “A lot of vans are coming off the line ready to go with racking etc and that will have a different CO2 rating from a standard van,” he says. “Do you get a different rating when you even put a lining in?”

He also pointed out that it will impact the approach that used buyers take to sourcing stock.

“Van buyers will do anything for a deal – they will buy a fridge van and take the back off and put a tipper on it. The BT fleet is very specific to BT so dealers will take that body off and put a new one on but that will then have a different CO2 rating.”

Mercedes-Benz sales engineer Lucie Wolstenholme gave an insight into the thinking at the manufacturer, saying: “We have got the same as cars with our single-stage process, it will be the same for customers, it will be an education process on how nothing has changed on the vehicle. With our multi-stage [conversion] process we are going to need input from the bodybuilders.”

Mercedes will require information on the weight and the frontal area from the converter, and it then plans to calculate the vehicle’s CO2 rating from there.

“We are sending bodybuilder bulletins showing how they calculate their frontal area to give them as much time as possible to make those changes,” she added.

 

WEIGHTY MATTERS

As well as the extra drag created by changing the shape of a van, the other question that manufacturers are yet to receive clarity on is payload, and the role it plays in the WLTP testing. With a new CO2-based VED system due to be introduced in 2020, the amount of load that a van has on board during its testing could play a crucial role in how much tax fleets pay.

As Cox’s James Davis points out: “There has to be an understanding that vans are not all driven at their max payload so it is unfair to tax at max payload.”

The DfT’s guidance on this says that the vehicle’s basic payload “shall comprise the driver, a witness of the test (if applicable) and the test equipment, including the mounting and the power supply devices”.

It adds that some artificial payload may be added “as long as the total mass of the basic and artificial payload does not exceed 90% of the sum of the ‘mass of the passengers’ and the ‘paymass’”.

However, it doesn’t give a standard percentage for how much payload should be added. Clarity is still needed.

 

LIGHT OR HEAVY DUTY

Buyers with their eyes on converting a van will have to consider another weight in addition to the usual 3500kg limit.

Mercedes’ Lucie Wolstenholme explains that vehicles that have a reference mass (the unladen weight plus 25kg) of 2380kg or more could be eligible for heavy-duty emissions (Euro VI) legislation, rather than the light-duty emissions (Euro 6) law. The problem is that the former doesn’t have to adhere to the new WLTP testing regime, while the latter does.

“We need to make sure customers make that decision because they are legally separated,” says Wolstenholme. “We can’t tell what legislation will come in for each version. We would never say ‘don’t worry about it’ – if a place decided to ban EuroVI then that customer is affected.”

Wolstenholme points out that several of the brand’s converted vans, including some in-house Luton conversions, are likely to tip over the 2380kg barrier where customers can choose if they want to register the vehicle as light duty or heavy duty, but few, if any, will be over the 2840kg that means they mustbe
classed as heavy duty.

She points out that both categories are set to have to comply with the new ULEZ zones in cities such as London, so there is unlikely to be any benefit to classifying a van as heavy duty rather than light duty on that front.

It is also likely that WLTP will be rolled out to heavy duty vans in the future as the industry looks to push down emissions.

 

COMMUNICATION

Jon Lawes, Hitachi Capital managing director, feels that WLTP is a good thing, but says that the roll-out was poorly executed for the car industry.

“On our car quotation system, we normally have about 7000 vehicles and for about two months that was down to 1500,” he said, pointing out that it is now back up to 6000.

The key to avoiding a repeat of this is clarity of communication, he says.

“I am really hoping the industry will take the last 12 months and learn lessons. Plan better and communicate better. Get their plans in place and be open and transparent about testing and when models will be available.”