Planning to get some amazing future car? Beware the 'European Drivecycle Game'

In the olden days, we often heard a refrain along the lines of:

“Man, look at the MPGs on these cars in Europe! It’s ridiculous that we can’t get them over here.”

Nowadays, it’s often of the form:

“Man, look at the range of this upcoming European EV! I totally want that when it comes here!”

While a particular European car might actually be good in this regard, all too often this is a symptom of the “European Drivecycle Game” — one that’s increasingly deliberately exploited by manufacturers to hype up their products. When the reality sets in, it often leads to disappointment, followed by moving on to the next hype machine.

Every driver should learn to recognize this “game”, and how to avoid it!


In a nutshell…

Vehicle MPGs and ranges are based on what are known as “drivecycles” — a scientifically-controlled testing regime which yields figures by which different vehicles can be compared, without having to rely on the randomness of, “Well, my buddy John drove it, and he got X mpg / Y miles range”. A drivecycle may not represent any specific individual’s real-world figures, but it provides a nice comparative baseline.

The US “5-cycle” system gives MPG (and for EVs, MPGe) figures for city, combined, and highway driving, as well as range for combined driving. 

  • City driving is based primarily on the UDDS drivecycle, a specific variant called FTP-75. The vehicle is made to drive the following pattern:
Speed-time-profile-of-the-Federal-Test-Procedure-FTP-75-driving-cycle-The-California.ppm
  • Highway driving is based on the HWFET drivecycle and the more aggressive US06 cycle:
hwfet.gif
HWFET

ftp_us06.gif
US06
  • Combined driving is a 55% mix of city and 45% highway driving.

It was discovered that combined EV ranges based on these figures were grossly inflated; people tend to care about range most when traveling long distances at high speed, while EVs are more affected by speed than ICEs. Additionally, adverse weather can have more of an impact on EV ranges than ICEs. Consequently, listed EPA ranges are 30% lower than the calculated ranges — yielding a relatively realistic value (your experience will vary).

In Europe, the standard drivecycle used to be the NEDC (New European Drive Cycle). This is a much slower drivecycle, and yields mpg figures that are inflated over US figures, and EV ranges that are vastly longer.

NEDC.png

Note that these speeds are in kph; 100 kph is ~62mph, while 50kph is ~31mph. Not only is this cycle exceedingly slow, but no range-discounting is conducted for EVs; the range figures given are highly inflated.

Recognizing that NEDC was terrible for both ICE vehicles and EVs, Europe switched to a new cycle called WLTP (World-harmonized Light-vehicle Test Procedure).  WLTP consists of four segments — sometimes dubbed “city”, “town”, “rural”, and “motorway”.

46.png

These are measured both individually and combined to yield a net value. While much better than NEDC, it still yields somewhat high MPG and range figures.

How does this play out in practice?  Let’s look at some examples.


Example 1: Internal combustion vehicle MPGs

Here’s some popular vehicles in the US which also have an equivalent in Europe.  WLTP l/100km figures will be converted to MPGs. Note that these can be somewhat rough, as ICE vehicles often have significant engine differences between the US and Europe (unlike EVs)

Vehicle US EU (WLTP) Difference
Ford Escape / Kuga 2L FWD 25 33.1 +33%
Toyota RAV4 Hybrid 40 53.5 +34%
Honda Civic 4dr manual turbo 32 39.2 +23%
Jeep Wrangler 8-gear 2L 24 24.2 +1%
Volkswagen Golf GTI manual 27 31.3 +16%
BMW 330i sport auto 30 34.1 +14%
Porsche Cayenne 21 25 +19%

Comparisons get worse when one compares UK “mpg” figures rather than general EU l/100km figures. This combines the already inflated WLTP figures with the fact that the UK’s imperial gallon is 20% larger than the US gallon.


Example 2: Electric vehicle ranges

Electric vehicles tend to have fewer changes when transitioning between markets. Here are some common electric vehicle ranges in miles.

Vehicle US NEDC WLTP US-WLTP Difference

Chevy Bolt / Opel Ampera-e

238 320 240 +1%
Tesla Model 3 LR AWD 310 348 +12%
Nissan Leaf 40kWh 151 217 168 +11%
Hyundai Kona 64kWh 258 279 +8%
Volkswagen e-Golf 125 186 143 +14%
BMW i3 120Ah 153 223 193 +26%
Jaguar i-Pace 234 337 292 +25%
Audi E-Tron 204 259 +27%

Many more examples could follow. Apart from the Chevy Bolt (which appears to have undergone some changes when making a European version), normally WLTP ranges come in at ~10-25% greater than their EPA equivalents.  Less efficient EVs in particular seem to be the most boosted by the WLTP.  As for NEDC ranges… well, just look at them; they’re a joke.


Why it matters: a recent case

We keep seeing a cycle play out where people tease development ranges (sometimes even NEDC ranges) — causing a surge in people putting off an EV purchase to wait for their “dream car”.  Then the WLTP range is finally unveiled — a much lower figure.  Reservation holders are disappointed.  Then the EPA figures get unveiled, and they’re slashed again. The disappointed reservation holders then focus on some other upcoming car and its “great” range figures — and the cycle repeats.

As a recent case, a lot of hype was paid to the Porsche Taycan.  Generally the media quoted figures of “at least 310 miles range”. You really had to dig to discover that these were NEDC estimates from the development process.  Then it got its WLTP range: “237 to 280 miles”.  We’ll get into the “range” game later; the actual combined WLTP range is 256 miles.  Given that this is a relatively inefficient vehile (akin to the E-Tron and i-Pace), the EPA range may come in around 205mi or so.  A far cry from the earlier “at least 310 miles figures”.


The “up to X miles” range game

The newest trick is to report that a vehicle has “up to X miles range”.  For example, with the upcoming VW ID.3, lots of coverage has reported the ranges of the three variants as:

  • 45kWh: “up to 205 miles”
  • 58kWh: “up to 260 miles”
  • 77kWh: “up to 342 miles”

Unlike EPA figures, for which only combined cycle ranges are generally given out, European manufacturers are increasingly giving out the ranges for the low (city) and extra high (motorway) portions of the WLTP cycle — for example, the “237 to 280 miles”.  They can then say, in the case of the Taycan, “Up to 280 miles”.  In this case, “Up to” means “city driving”.  And not EPA city driving, but the even slower WLTP city driving.

In the case of the ID. 3, the 45kWh has a WLTP range of “143 to 205 miles”.  E.g. a combined range of around 171 WLTP miles. Going with a favourable 12% WLTP-EPA conversion factor, this yields an estimated EPA range of 153 miles.

Looking at the 77kWh version, its WLTP is “242 to 342 miles”. E.g. a combined range of around 287 miles. E.g. an EPA range (12% conversion factor, as above) of around 256 miles.

One can imagine how disappointed a person would be if they had sat around waiting for a year or more for a vehicle that they thought was going to have 342 miles range, only to discover that it actually had 256 miles range.

Remember that these figures apply to charging as well.  If a manufacturer boasted that their vehicle charges at “200 miles in 15 minutes”, but they were playing both the WLTP and “up to” games, the actual charge rate might be, say, 150 miles in 15 minutes.


In summary…

When it comes to cars, be an educated consumer! This means understanding that…

  • A “mpg” is not a mpg.
  • A “mile” is not a mile.
  • Be dubious of any manufacturer that gives you a stat who doesn’t clarify exactly what drivecycle it’s measured against.
  • Outright ignore anyone who claims a range or MPG based on “our driver went out and drove it around for a bit”  😉
  • Be wary of the “up to” game on European (WLTP) figures.  Also be wary of the fact that news outlets might leave out the initial “up to” wording when covering the story.