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*In My Humble Opinion, 5/27/15

Lately, we have been hearing a lot about Nick Molden and his company, Emissions Analytics.

A little background:  Nick is a graduate of the University of Oxford, with an MA in Philosophy, Politics and Economics.  Early on in his career, worked at global media firms United Business Media plc and Haymarket Media Group.

Emissions Analytics was founded in 2010 in order for Nick’s team to better understand real-world fuel economy and emissions from vehicles.  His new company was actually spun out of his other business venture – Oxford Indices – which specializes in extracting actionable insight from raw data.

His concept was to find a way to characterize vehicles in a relatively short test, and be able to conduct a large number of comparable tests.

As Nick told me in our recent interview, his company seeks out tightly-focused (often highly challenging) problems that require the use of more advanced non-linear analysis and algorithms.

I caught up with Nick at a recent Conference, and he was nice enough to agree to an interview:

Dave: Nick – what is your background with fuels and emissions?

Nick: I have a background in data analysis, particularly in the automotive sector, and was intrigued how often consumers were reporting big differences between the fuel economy claims in marketing materials and the reality they were experiencing on the ground.

Dave: Nick – why, specifically?

Nick: If true, this would mean that fuel costs and CO2 emissions were higher than expected, and would cast doubt on the official testing regime for air pollutants such as NOx.

Therefore, I wanted to create a new approach to fuel economy testing to prove or disprove this.

So, I set up Emissions Analytics and devised a proprietary process for testing a high volume of cars on real roads in normal driving, and making the results comparable.

This became “True MPG” (www.whatcar.com/truempg) launched with What Car? in the UK and “Real MPG” with Motor Trend and Intellichoice (www.intellichoice.com/real-mpg.html) in the US.

Dave:  So how did you proceed to evaluate this challenge?

Nick: We decided to use PEMS, with its near-laboratory-grade accuracy and ability to gather lots of data quickly.

From this start in fuel economy, Emissions Analytics widened its interest to measure pollutants such as particulates and NOx, to see if there was a similar disparity between laboratory official tests and reality – particularly relevant as concern grew about urban air pollution and “dirty diesels”.

Dave:  Okay, so in order not to upset our interview’s continuity, I will now put in a “third-party” shameless plug and encourage our readers to check out your website and to contact you directly about your results, in case they have missed your presentations! 

Dave:  So what have you done recently?

Nick: Glad you asked!

In 2015, we launched a performance benchmarking tool to reveal real-world NOx and CO2 emissions, and fuel economy, coinciding with implementation of the latest Euro 6 regulations in the EU.

Dave: So it seems like you and your company are on top of many of the latest trends.  In your opinion, what do you feel is the most pressing challenge that our industry faces today?

Nick: Good question.

I feel that a disproportionate level of resource – both from OEMs and regulators – goes into formulating and meeting emissions regulations, yet they are often inefficient in bringing about the desired change in behaviour.

Dave: Why is this, do you think?

Nick: In my opinion, the lack of in-service monitoring of performance means that the ability to predict and monitor the efficacy of new regulations is limited. Ineffective regulations can bring about at best scepticism among the wider population, and at worst – lead people to make the wrong purchases for both them and society.

Coupled with this, it can set up undesirable games between regulators and the regulated, to get the best official result, whether or not it translates into real-world performance.

Dave: Can you provide an example?

Nick:  Yes.  The current fuel economy regulations in Europe are a good case it point, where much resource goes into getting the best result on the New European Driving Cycle (NEDC) – by various tactics, generally legal – while at the same time the 24% average shortfall in fuel economy in real-world driving has brought the system into disrepute in public perception.

Dave: That’s a significant disparity!  So, where do you see the industry heading in the next 1, 3, 5 and 10 years?

Nick: Part of the solution to the problem above is to scale up the amount of in-service testing – of which we see Emissions Analytics being a part – on an independent basis, moving emissions testing away from a high-cost low-volume business that is the preserve of private testing, to a lower-cost, higher-volume monitoring of real-world performance.

Dave: Good concept – what do you feel are the best “next steps”?

Nick: I think that this can be achieved by a combination of new approaches to testing, extracting maximum value from the second-by-second data and bringing down the cost of the PEMS analyzers themselves.

Dave: We are in agreement here.

Nick:  In the shorter-term, there will be a focus on introducing Real Driving Emissions and the new WLTP in Europe, and the current review of the effectiveness of existing regulations in the US.

Dave:  Great insights – thanks Nick.  So which countries have the greatest challenges to overcome?

Nick: The issue always comes down the effect on quality of life of air pollution, and the cost of living as a function of fuel efficiency.

Therefore, all countries continue to tackle these questions, as the population demands ever higher standards and lower costs.

That said, the European Union faces a particular challenge to control real-world air pollution given the market share of diesels, but without leading to rises in CO2 by switching away from diesel.

real driving emissions

Dave:  It appears that the new “Real Driving Emissions” (RDE) approach may be a good next step, no?

Nick: Perhaps.

Early data is moderately encouraging, with some vehicles meeting or getting close to the regulated level.  But the regulations are not finally drafted yet, so there is some way to go.

Dave: That sounds like a bit of a warning…

Nick:  I am suggesting that it is important for regulations to take a holistic view.

Dave:  How do you mean – can you clarify?

Nick:  Yes.  As an example, it is not sufficient to “solve” the NOx problem if the NO2-fraction rises sharply or there is a large increase in ammonia emissions in urban areas.

Dave:  Thanks.  So, what is your most interesting project that you were a part of, that you can tell us about?

Nick: I believe our “True MPG” and “Real MPG” projects in the EU and US respectively hold particular interest due to the combination of challenges.

They required devising a way to use PEMS to test a vehicle, previously unseen, in about half a day, and to maintain this rate of testing around the year.  We had to devise a real on-road route that puts the car through a wide range of operating conditions yet also demonstrate internal repeatability.  Finally, we devised a statistical method for correcting the uncontrollable traffic flow to a standard to allow for comparability between results.

Dave: And how have these innovations impacted your testing capabilities?

Nick: Using these methods, we are now testing over 400 vehicles per year, and plan to expand this to more countries, vehicle types and pollutants.

In fact, we have recently started a van testing programme in the EU using the same principles, while adding in variable payload.

In many ways, we have created a parallel system to the official fuel economy and CO2 rating system, completely independently and exclusively in real-world conditions.

Dave: Thanks for your time, Nick!

Nick:  Anytime – cheers!

As a final note, please feel free to contact Nick directly at: nick@emissionsanalytics.com

That’s all for this installment of the IMHO Series; but more interviews are right around the corner…

Dave