hyundai and kia logoAn unprecedented penalty was levied against automakers Hyundai and Kia in November of last year for alleged Clean Air Act violations. In a disclosed settlement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Justice, the two automakers will pay out over a $100 million civil penalty as a result of the sale of more than 1 million Hyundai and Kia vehicles. The collective greenhouse gases (GHG) emitted from those vehicles are in severe excess of what the automakers certified to the EPA. However, the complicated offense has more to do with improper reporting of road load force than simple tailpipe emissions.  Here is a breakdown of what got the two automakers in hot water.

U.S. Clean Air Act

The U.S. Clean Air Act Certification Requirements are in place to protect human health and the environment through the reduction of harmful air pollutants.  This along with auto recycling positively impacts the environment.   By utilizing an EPA Certification program, automakers must satisfy tailpipe emission standards for certain air pollutants. The EPA’s certification program requires all manufacturers apply to the EPA for a Certificate of Conformity (COC) for its vehicles and demonstrate that the vehicles meet the required emissions standards. Vehicles that conform to the standard are issued a COC and are only then allowed to be sold in the U.S. GHGs (greenhouse gases) are on the list of air pollutants recognized by the Clean Air Act. Hyundai and Kia were allegedly in violation of those standards, but that is only half the story.

Road Load Force Tests

What is interesting about the massive settlement is that it isn’t as cut-and-dried as emissions coming from the tail pipe. The alleged violations of excessive GHGs are directly related to a vehicle’s road load force. The EPA discovered the GHG emissions violations in a 2012 audit on Hyundai and Kia models, which included road load force tests. Road load force is the total force encountered by a vehicle while in motion on a level surface, including internal and external forces that directly affect speed and gas consumption. A vehicle’s road load force must be provided by the manufacturer in an application for a COC. The provided road load force directly determines the proper laboratory settings to conduct an accurate test. Therefore, accurate road load force reporting is critical in determining how much pollutants a vehicle’s tail pipe will emit in real-world driving conditions.

With lower road load force, less fuel is consumed and fewer GHG’s are emitted. In turn, high road load force results in higher GHG emissions. Upon an EPA investigation, it was discovered that Hyundai and Kia had testing protocols in place that yielded low road load force, in particular, using favorable data heavily influenced by tailwinds. Those inaccurate results were selected by the manufacturers to be reported on the COCs and later discovered by the EPA. The punishment didn’t stop with the massive, historic fine. Hyundai and Kia must also spend $50 million on measures to prevent future violations, plus forfeit 4.75 million greenhouse gas emission credits worth over $200 million. Its a high penalty to pay for misreporting a high load.