The EPA is dragging its feet on common sense emissions control technology, McLaren has a new head honcho and Renault is ducking out of Russia as quietly as possible. All that and more in The Morning Shift for Wednesday, April 27, 2022.
1st Gear: I Didn’t Know Numbers Could Go That High
Researchers in London have calculated the difference in emissions between cars in Europe that incorporate gasoline particulate filters — commonly abbreviated to “OPF” from the German “ottopartikelfilter” — and their American counterparts that typically don’t, because the EPA does not mandate them. From Reuters:
British testing specialist Emissions Analytics took four pairs of cars — from Ford, BMW, Toyota and Stellantis — and compared the impact of tailpipe filters that are widely used in Europe where regulations limit the number of harmful particles that can be emitted, but not in the United States where the same regulations do not apply.
China and India use similar standards to Europe.
According to industry estimates, a gasoline particulate filter costs carmakers around $200.
Emissions Analytics estimated around 300 million gasoline-powered internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles travelling 10,000 miles annually on U.S. roads for the next decade will unnecessarily emit 1.6 septillion (1,600,000,000,000,000,000,000,000) harmful particles.
Raise your hand if you’d never seen a septillion number spelled out with all the zeroes before. Here’s more:
The research found in a cold start in an urban area, the average European model emitted 83.7% fewer particles than its U.S. counterpart.
Emissions Analytics said the biggest difference was in the Ford Kuga, which consistently emitted 95% fewer harmful particles than its U.S. sibling the Ford Escape, and 96% in a warm highway start.
The research also found major differences for the BMW X5, Stellantis’s Jeep Wrangler, and the Toyota RAV4.
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The use of gasoline particulate filters in Europe was prompted by the institution of Euro 6c emissions standards, which replaced the old New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) lab testing regime with the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicle Test Procedure (WLTP).
Coupled with Europe’s stringency on particulate emissions, automakers needed to start using these filters in addition to in-cylinder controls to comply with the law — especially because engines that employ direct injection, as is more common today, eject far more particulate matter than those that use port injection. (Some engines, like Ford’s EcoBoost series, even use both types.) DieselNet Technology Guide has a very straightforward and handy explainer:
The above standards could also be met — at least in certain types of vehicles — via in-cylinder controls such as fuel injection strategies, without particulate filters. However, the GPF has several advantages compared to in-cylinder controls:
Effectiveness under all operating conditions: While in-cylinder strategies tend to be more effective under certain modes of operation, the GPF provides PN emission control under all engine operating conditions—an advantage that is especially important in RDE testing.
Control of emissions from engine faults: Increased PN emissions can occur as a result of engine faults and malfunction, such as increased lube oil consumption. These emissions can be effectively controlled by particulate filters.
Control of unregulated emissions: The GPF can control certain unregulated emissions, including polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). GDI engines, even though equipped with three-way catalysts (TWC), may produce significant levels of toxic PAH emissions.
Gasoline particulate filters are not expected to be widely adopted in North America, where particle emissions are regulated through mass-based PM limits only. The US Tier 3PM limit of 3 mg/mi, as well as the 2025 California LEV III limit of 1 mg/mi will likely be met through in-cylinder control technologies.
All this is to say that gasoline particulate filters are generally a pretty comprehensive solution: they’re inexpensive; they can limit nitrous oxide, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbon emissions by 90 percent or more; and they allow modern cars to safely use direct fuel injection, which delivers better performance and gas mileage. There’s nothing in the EPA’s regulations that requires them, however, so automakers tend to delete them on the American versions of cars sold worldwide. That, in turn, allows those friendly nanoparticles the filters would otherwise stop to enter your lungs and, potentially, cross the blood-brain barrier.
According to Reuters, the EPA is considering forcing automakers to implement filters as part of its future standards — though, even if it did, those rules wouldn’t enter play for another five years. That delay will delight many enthusiasts though; search “gas particulate filter” on Google and you’re bound to encounter a number of forum posts, like this one from Rennlist and another from BimmerPost, where some (not all) commenters are chiefly concerned about how such filters might affect their favorite cars’ exhaust note. Vroom vroom noises or your central nervous system — you decide.
2nd Gear: More Recalls, Fewer Cars
There were 406 individual model recall campaigns in 2021, compared to 317 in 2020. However, those campaigns covered a smaller number of total vehicles, according to data collected by an investment advisory firm. From Automotive News:
Individual recall campaigns reached a record high of 406 in 2021 compared with 317 in 2020, while the total number of vehicles affected dropped to 21.6 million from 28.9 million over the same period, Stout’s data showed.
Two campaigns in 2021 each affected more than 1 million vehicles: a Ford recall of 2.6 million older-model vehicles for potentially defective airbags and a Mercedes-Benz recall of 1.3 million newer vehicles up to 5 years old for a software error.
It’s worth noting that Takata airbag recalls, which still happened last year, were generally excluded from the data. Altogether, there were six recalls covering more than a million units in 2020. Knocking that down to two could be viewed as a win.
On the flip side, 2021 was not a banner year for backup camera reliability:
2021 saw the greatest number of rearview and backup camera recalls “ever observed” by Stout, with 19 recalls for the year compared with 14 in 2020. The equipment has been required in new light-duty vehicles sold in the U.S. since 2018.
A majority of those recalls involved software-based defects, and the average vehicle age was 1.3 years, the data showed.
“As the age of these components has increased, we have seen a few recalls of rearview and backup cameras, which reflect the aging of these components,” said Robert Levine, a director in Stout’s disputes, compliance and investigations group.
Hey — at least software-based defects could ideally be fixed with software! This is playing out much like video game development in recent years. When bugs could theoretically be fixed at any time down the line, companies are encouraged to be much more lax about fixing them before products ship. At least a video game can’t potentially kill you if something goes wrong, despite what internet commenters might have you believe.
3rd Gear: GM’s Q1 Earnings
General Motors’ global revenue increased by 11 percent in the first quarter of 2022 versus a year prior, and yet its net income declined compared with the same period. From Automotive News:
General Motors on Tuesday reported first-quarter net income of $2.9 billion, a 2.7 percent decrease from a year earlier despite a double-digit revenue increase.
GM’s global earnings before interest and taxes declined 8.4 percent to $4 billion, while its North American profit equaled the $3.1 billion it earned in the first quarter of 2021. Global revenue rose 11 percent to nearly $36 billion.
CEO Mary Barra, in a letter to shareholders, reaffirmed the company’s 2022 adjusted earnings guidance of $13 billion to $15 billion. GM expects net income of $9.6 billion to $11.2 billion for the year.
“Our confidence is strong as we accelerate our transformation, even in the face of a challenging macro environment,” Barra said in the letter. “Our biggest growth opportunity in North America is in electric trucks. We’ve led the full-size pickup segment for two consecutive years, and we will lead the EV truck market as well.”
Light vehicle sales fell 20 percent due to supply chain constraints, though GM still expects to churn out between 25 and 30 percent more cars in 2022 than it did in 2021.
4th Gear: Ferrari’s Loss Is McLaren’s Gain
The British builder of fast, expensive and typically orange cars has a new CEO, and wouldn’t you know he’s very familiar with the company’s top rival on the street and track. From Automotive News:
McLaren Automotive has hired Ferrari executive Michael Leiters as its CEO.
Leiters, 50, replaces Mike Flewitt, who resigned from the British sports-car maker in October.
Leiters stepped down as Ferrari’s chief technology officer in December as part of a leadership reorganization at the Italian luxury brand.
At Ferrari, Leiters oversaw the development of the first Ferrari series-production hybrid cars: the SF90 Stradale, the automaker’s first plug-in hybrid launched in 2019 and the 296 GTB, its first plug-in hybrid V6, launched earlier this year.
Leiters is actually on his way to touring all the most iconic performance marques. He used to be at Porsche:
German-born Leiters has a doctorate in engineering and has also held senior positions at Porsche, where he worked for 13 years. His roles at Porsche included project manager for the Porsche Cayenne SUV.
And should that long-rumored deal with Audi go through, Leiters might reacquaint himself with some old colleagues.
5th Gear: The Value Of A Ruble
Renault is trying to divest itself of Russian automaker AvtoVAZ for reasons you could guess. The latest line is that it’s so desperate, it’s sold its 68 percent stake to a public research institute for one ruble — with the understanding that it can buy those shares back, presumably also for a ruble, in five or six years if it so chooses. Courtesy of Financial Times:
Renault is to transfer its majority stake in Russian carmaker Avtovaz to a public research institute for the symbolic price of one rouble, according to local reports.
The Avtovaz holding will be handed to the state-backed industry body NAMI, with the French carmaker having the option of a buyback within five or six years, said the news agency Interfax, citing Russian trade minister Denis Manturov.
Now Renault apparently wants to keep this hush, because no part of this really looks good for them. When Reuters reached out for confirmation of the deal, a spokesperson from the company declined to comment. If it’s indeed true, though, look forward to Renault just as quietly slipping back into Russian market if the current political situation changes, or if nothing’s changed and the Western world’s decided a newer, shinier calamity is more worthy of its attention.
Reverse: All I Know About This Car Is That Top Gear Hated It
Apparently it was on this day in 1971, 51 years ago, that one of the several cars Top Gear hated more than all the rest became officially available to the public. Take it away, 365 Days of Motoring:
Public launch day of the rear-wheel-drive Morris Marina, which was available in the typical British Leyland colours of the day – Russet Brown, Harvest Gold, Limeflower Green, Midnight Blue, Teal Blue, Blaze Orange, Damask Red and Black Tulip. Although now often described as one of the worst cars of all time, the Marina was one of the most popular cars in Britain throughout its production life, narrowly beating the Ford Escort to second place in the UK car sales table in 1973, and regularly taking third or fourth place.
Top Gear’s disdain for certain aggressively British cars was one of its cultural references that was completely impenetrable to me as an American teenager — second only to its guests of course. I’m sure Terry Hammerscott or whoever related a charming anecdote about a Marina on Series 7, Episode 3.
Neutral: Why Can’t We Have Nice Wheels
I’m considering aftermarket wheels for my car and I had my heart set on Speedlines or maybe Team Dynamics, given that they make cool rally-style stuff and I want to lean into that hard with my hot hatch. But these companies don’t officially import their stuff to the U.S., meaning that I have to instead buy some Sparcos that look the part but are probably way heavier and not as strong, because they’re the only ones that fit my weird-ass bolt pattern and size requirements. It blows me away that there are still some products you need to live in a certain country to buy for a reasonable price, even in 2022.