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Going green at a cost

autos Updated: May 19, 2010 15:47 IST

Hindustan Times
Highlight Story

Bharat Stage IV isn’t just a new moniker on your brand new car. It’s a set of stricter emission rules aimed at delivering a cleaner environment. But what does it really mean for you, the car buyer?

Every five years, the government tightens the reins on emission norms in order to achieve a cleaner and greener environment. Bharat Stage (BS) IV standards, the latest in emission norms, came into effect in parts of the country from April 1, 2010.

Norms in the cities
While 13 major cities across India (Delhi and NCR, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Pune, Ahmedabad, Kanpur, Surat, Agra, Solapur and Lucknow, which account for nearly 50 per cent of all sales) shift from BS III to BS IV, the rest of the country will upgrade from BS II to BS III.

So what does this mean for you? Well, for starters, you won’t be able to buy a Maruti 800, Fiat Palio, Ford Ikon, Skoda Octavia, Indica V2 diesel and a few other cars in these 13 major cities any more.

Old engines’ problems
Why? Simply because older cars that are towards the end of their life usually get the axe — it makes little sense for carmakers to spend big bucks on upgrading a car to BS IV if it has no future. Another challenge for older engines is that they require far more work (and hence cost) to make them clean. Instead, what most carmakers are doing to meet BS IV standards is simply recalibrating their cars’ ECUs and ‘loading’ the catalytic converter with higher volumes of exhaust-cleaning precious metals.

Older engines, which have less efficient combustion, need more ‘after-treatment’ or cleansing of the exhaust. This is largely done with bigger catalytic converters but the problem with after-treatment is that it adversely impacts performance and fuel efficiency.

However, clever tuning of the ECU and tweaking other hardware can minimise efficiency losses and, in some cases, fuel efficiency can be improved as well. For example, the BS IV Alto’s fuel efficiency as measured on the Indian driving cycle has gone up from 18.1 kpl to 19.7 kpl.

The impact of BS IV varies from engine to engine and some older diesel engines can lose from five to seven per cent in fuel efficiency.

However, there is no debate about the fact that BS IV has pushed costs up substantially. Hardware such as bigger catalytic converters, new injection systems and other technology is expensive and, as a result, prices of BS IV vehicles have gone up by two to five per cent. If it’s a new car you’re looking at now, be prepared to shell out bigger amounts at the showrooms.

BS IV car with BS III fuel?
While cars can still be sold with BS III specifications outside of the 13 cities mentioned, most carmakers have completely discontinued BS III models and will only sell BS IV cars throughout India. While the top 13 cities have been supplied with BS IV fuel, the main problem is that the shift from BS II to BS III in the rest of the country hasn’t yet happened.

This is because the oil industry has failed to deliver BS III grade fuel before April 1, 2010 and has seriously complicated the transition to the new norms. The deadline for completely phasing out BS II grade fuel and replacing it with BS III grade fuel is now October 1, 2010.

Most manufacturers have tuned their engines to cope with the lower grade fuel, so apart from a slight deterioration in performance and economy, there should be no long-term damage to the engine.

BS III cars in BS IV cities?
The law says that any new car sold after April 1, 2010 has to meet BS IV standards, initially in the 13 cities and then across the country. If you are considering a brand new car, then all dealers will have stocks of BS IV models. If, however, a car is manufactured before this date, it will probably be made to the less stringent BS III standards. But you ca register a car made before April 1, 2010 beyond the deadline.

These BS III standard cars are legal and will have no problems. However, the resale value of a BS III car will not be as good as a BS IV car. Also, keep in mind that if you are likely to relocate to a different city in case of a job transfer and want to keep your car for many years, then re-registering your BS III car in a BS IV city is not possible.
Autocar India