Green NCAP Releases Six New Results in October, But What If Software Can Interfere?

Green NCAP has the goal of offering car buyers a trustworthy reference for choosing the cleanest vehicle for their budgets. We have pointed out several flaws in the rankings provided by the organization present, but a new concern makes us even more about how precise they are: the possibility that software updates may interfere with the results.
Cupra Born Green NCAP results 7 photos
Photo: Green NCAP/edited by autoevolution
Fiat 500 Hybrid Green NCAP resultsHyundai Tucson Green NCAP resultsNissan Qashqai Green NCAP resultsSeat Ibiza Green NCAP resultsSkoda Fabia Green NCAP resultsCupra Born Green NCAP results
Green NCAP is connected to Euro NCAP, the safety assessment program that Tesla included in a restricted over-the-air (OTA) update found only in the cars tested by the program and very few others. The white-hat hacker GreenTheOnly discovered that they also had specially provisioned computers, meaning they had different firmware, different security keys, and “allowed Tesla personnel to more freely log into” those vehicles.

Unfortunately, Euro NCAP did not dig much into that: it did not contact the hacker and carefully said it didn’t find evidence of wrongdoing, which tells more about the organization’s capacity to verify software than about what was going on with these test cars. Tesla did not explain why the test vehicles had restricted software and specially provisioned computers.

Green NCAP’s tests are theoretically more protected against this sort of risk than those that Euro NCAP selects from a list provided by the carmaker – as was the case with the Tesla vehicles. The efficiency-testing organization only evaluates used vehicles, generally from car rental companies. They must have a few thousand miles on the clock to be assessed. However, what if car companies start building EV codes for them to recognize Green NCAP’s procedures?

This was how Volkswagen managed to make its diesel cars pass nitrogen oxide testing in the U.S., even if they emitted them in high numbers in everyday driving. Known as Dieselgate, this scandal showed that software became a powerful cheating possibility to beat regulators and independent testing organizations. All a carmaker would have to do would be to identify the test conditions and impose parameters that could make the vehicles spend less energy or fuel when submitted to them.

That is particularly dangerous with electric cars, which are incredibly efficient machines by nature. They will spend more energy if the driver steps harder on the accelerator pedal, for example. An automaker could program it to deliver power in a more gradual way to make it spend less energy. Those looking for high performance would be disappointed, but that would give these cars good ratings on Green NCAP. If they could recognize the test parameters, they could limit these softer responses to evaluations.

Of the six vehicles presented in Green NCAP’s October test batch, only one is electric: the Cupra Born. It received five stars on October 6, when the organization also released the results of the Fiat 500 Hybrid and the Seat Ibiza 1.0 TSI. On October 27, it disclosed the results of the Skoda Fabia 1.0 MPI, Nissan Qashqai 1.3 Mild Hybrid, and Hyundai Tucson HEV.

The tests demonstrate that two vehicles built on the same platform and with the same engine can present significantly different results. The Fabia received 3 starts, while the Ibiza got only 2.5. The Seat has a lower efficiency index and, consequently, emits more greenhouse gases, which dropped its score in the Greenhouse Gas Index. It must have to do with aerodynamics, tires, and weight. Regarding the other vehicles, the Fiat 500 Hybrid also got 3 stars, followed by the Qashqai with 2.5, and the Tucson with only 2.

We’re still waiting for Green NCAP to address the problems we have pointed out about previous results and also that it also talks about how it plans to address the danger that software updates may mess with its tests. Euro NCAP is still silent about that, so don’t hold your breath about that.
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About the author: Gustavo Henrique Ruffo
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Motoring writer since 1998, Gustavo wants to write relevant stories about cars and their shift to a sustainable future.
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