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Fuel standards in Australia could rule out some of the best engines in the world

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Volkswagen Australia has called for industry action on Australian fuel standards, which it describes as among the worst in the developed world.

Australian premium fuel - 95RON and 98RON unleaded - has a maximum sulphur content of 50 parts per million. That's five times higher than Europe, and it looks likely to have a severe impact on what engines will be eligible to be offered in Australia moving forward.

The most modern and up-to-date engines offered in Europe will not be available for sale in Australia. For instance, the new-generation VW Golf 8 will arrive in Australia at the end of 2020 with an engine designed for the previous-gen model.

VW Australia product marketing manager, Jeff Shafer, said that Australia's fuel quality is holding back some of the most advanced petrol engines available globally.

"Fuel is an issue still for our marketplace. The guys in Germany and R&D are certainly pushing hard to make more engines available, even for a market like ours, with fuel that's not really at the same standard as other developed markets.

"It's something we consider deeply," said Mr Shafer. "Part of the issue is that if you can make some of those engines work on our premium fuels - which is 50 parts per million (of sulphur) for 95RON or 95RON - if somebody under-fuels the car with a 91RON fuel which is 150 parts per million, that's a big problem in terms of the effect on the car.

"I'm not saying that people would do that necessarily intentionally, but I bet lots of people have a story of filling up with the wrong fuel," he said.

"I think we're getting much closer to the point of being able to offer some engines with a petrol particulate filter, using our fuel. That's not the case in every instance, so there's some technologies that definitely still have issues with the fuel quality.

"We need to really have a good look at these things, it's not a decision we'd take lightly. If the vehicle is technically alright for our fuel, and we believe the usage was such that it wouldn't be an issue, then we could potentially go forward in that case, but it's something we've got to weigh up.

"Our engine range will be different to Europe [for the new Golf 8], and there's a possibility that the GTI will have different engines," said Mr Shafer.

Paul Pottinger, general manager of corporate communications for VW Australia, said the brand may be forced to adopt an older engine design for its performance models.

Volkswagen Australia has called for industry action on Australian fuel standards, which it describes as among the worst in the developed world.
Volkswagen Australia has called for industry action on Australian fuel standards, which it describes as among the worst in the developed world.

"We can't get the variable geometry turbo engines, ones that are already being sold in the UK. We can't get those, we're looking at the classic EA888 existing engines," said Mr Pottinger.

"We can still access unfiltered engines. We have the choice," he said, suggesting VW will continue to offer engines without petrol particulate filters for markets such as Africa and Latin America... and Australia.

Mr Pottinger said that for enthusiast cars like the Golf GTI and Golf R, there is a risk - no matter which way the company decides to go.

"Logically, if it was in a limited edition, or a performance edition, an owner would invest in that car. So what do we do? Risk alienating customers and not bring the car out, or trust that they will use the right fuel?

"The world would be greatly improved if we had the same fuel quality that all our regional neighbours including New Zealand has, and every other first world country has. But for some reason, we're not allowed to have it.

"All our cars now require premium fuel, but some people are horrified by the premium you have to pay. I filled up my car yesterday in Sydney and it was 25 cents per litre more for 98RON than it was for 91RON," he said.

"It seems insupportable that we pay this huge premium for ‘premium' fuel, and we don't get first-world quality fuel. What's wrong with this picture?

"There's no reason at all they couldn't import first-world quality fuel and install it tomorrow in place of 98RON in petrol station forecourts."

Matt Campbell
Managing Editor - Head of Video
Matt Campbell has been at the forefront of automotive media for more than a decade, working not only on car reviews and news, but also helping manage automotive outputs across print, online, video and audio. After completing his media degree at Macquarie University, Matt was an intern at a major news organisation as part of the motoring team, where he honed his skills in the online automotive reviews and news space. He did such a good job there they put him on full time, and since then he has worked across different automotive media outlets, before starting with CarsGuide in October 2017. At CarsGuide Matt has helped shape the video output of the business, while also playing a key role in management behind the scenes, and helping in-market new car buyers make the right choice by continually evolving CarsGuide's comparison reviews. Driving more than 100 cars a year seemed like a dream to Matt when he first started out, but now it's all just part of the job - a job he loves and plans to stay in for a long time to come. Matt is also an expert in used car values, as he's always on the hunt for a bargain - be it a project beater or a prime example of the breed. He currently owns a 2001 Audi TT quattro and a 2007 Suzuki Jimny JLX.
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