(Repeats story published in Friday)
* VW, Renault and GM axing or enlarging smallest engines
* Such engines would breach emissions limits in new EU tests
* Both diesel and gasoline face emissions problems in Europe
By Laurence Frost and Agnieszka Flak
PARIS, Oct 14 Tougher European car emissions
tests being introduced in the wake of the Volkswagen
scandal are about to bring surprising consequences: bigger
Carmakers that have spent a decade shrinking engine
capacities to meet emissions goals are now being forced into a
costly U-turn, industry sources said, as more realistic
on-the-road testing exposes deep flaws in their smallest motors.
Renault, General Motors and VW are
preparing to enlarge or scrap some of their best-selling small
car engines over the next three years, the people said. Other
manufacturers are expected to follow, with both diesels and
The reversal makes it even harder to meet carbon dioxide
(CO2) targets and will challenge development budgets already
stretched by a rush into electric cars and hybrids.
"The techniques we've used to reduce engine capacities will
no longer allow us to meet emissions standards," said Alain
Raposo, head of powertrain at the Renault-Nissan alliance.
"We're reaching the limits of downsizing," he said at the
Paris auto show, which ends on Saturday. Renault, VW and GM's
Opel all declined to comment on specific engine plans.
For years, carmakers kept pace with European Union CO2 goals
by shrinking engine capacities, while adding turbochargers to
make up lost power. Three-cylinder motors below one litre have
become common in cars up to VW Golf-sized compacts; some Fiat
models run on twin-cylinders.
These mini-motors sailed through official lab tests
conducted - until now - on rollers at unrealistically moderate
temperatures and speeds. Carmakers, regulators and green groups
knew that real-world CO2 and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions were
much higher, but the discrepancy remained unresolved.
All that is about to change. Starting next year, new models
will be subjected to realistic on-the-road testing for NOx, with
all cars required to comply by 2019. Fuel consumption and CO2
will follow two years later under a new global test standard.
Independent testing in the wake of VW's exposure last year
as a U.S. diesel emissions cheat has shed more light on the
scale of the problem facing automakers.
Carmakers' smallest European engines, when driven at higher
loads than current tests allow, far exceed legal emissions
levels. Heat from the souped-up turbos generates diesel NOx up
to 15 times over the limit; gasoline equivalents lose
fuel-efficiency and spew fine particles and carbon monoxide.
"They might be doing OK in the current European test cycle,
but in the real world they are not performing," said Pavan
Potluri, an analyst with influential forecaster IHS Automotive.
"So there's actually a bit of 'upsizing' going on,
particularly in diesel."
Carmakers have kept understandably quiet about the scale of
the problem or how they plan to address it. But industry sources
shared details of a retreat already underway.
GM will not replace its current 1.2-litre diesel when the
engines are updated on a new architecture arriving in 2019,
people with knowledge of the matter said. The smallest engine in
the range will be 25-30 percent bigger.
VW is replacing its 1.4 litre three-cylinder diesel with a
four-cylinder 1.6 for cars like the Polo, they said, while
Renault is planning a near-10 percent enlargement to its 1.6
litre R9M diesel, which had replaced a 1.9-litre model in 2011.
In real-driving conditions, the French carmaker's 0.9-litre
gasoline H4Bt injects excess fuel to prevent overheating,
resulting in high emissions of unburned hydrocarbons, fine
particles and carbon monoxide.
Cleaning that up with exhaust technology would be too
expensive, sources say, so the three-cylinder will be dropped
for a larger successor developing more torque at lower regimes
to stay cool.
The turnaround on size is a European phenomenon, coinciding
with diesel's sharp decline in smaller cars. Larger engines
prevalent in North America, China and emerging markets still
have room to improve real emissions by shrinking.
Fiat, Renault and Opel have the worst real NOx emissions
among the newest "Euro 6" diesels, according to test data from
several countries. They now "face the biggest burden" of
compliance costs, brokerage Evercore ISI warned last month.
Such reckonings are the inevitable result of on-the-road
testing, said Thomas Weber, head of research and development at
Mercedes, which has nothing below four cylinders.
"It becomes apparent that a small engine is not an
advantage," Weber told Reuters. "That's why we didn't jump on
the three-cylinder engine trend."
The tougher tests may kill diesel engines smaller than 1.5
litres and gasolines below about 1.2, analysts predict. That in
turn increases the challenge of meeting CO2 goals, adding
urgency to the scramble for electric cars and hybrids.
VW has been far more vocal about ambitious plans announced
in June to sell 2-3 million electric cars annually by 2025 -
about a quarter of its current vehicle production.
"You can't downsize beyond a certain point, so the focus is
shifting to a combination of solutions," said Sudeep Kaippalli,
a Frost & Sullivan analyst who predicts a hybrids surge.
In future, he said, "downsizing will mean you take a smaller
engine and add an electric motor to it".
(Additional reporting by Gilles Guillaume, Edward Taylor and
Paul Lienert; Editing by Pravin Char)