As the clock strikes 12 on the night of March 31, 2020, the sale and registration of vehicles conforming to Bharat Stage IV (or BS4) emission standards will no longer be legal across the country, as per the 20-page judgement that was passed by a three-judge Supreme court bench almost a year ago. Let us take a look at the emission standards in the country, including the latest one, as we attempt to understand this cleaner, greener initiative.

The Bharat Stage Emission Standards (BSES)

In order to regulate the output of air pollutants in the emissions of motor vehicles in India, the Central Pollution Control Board (which operates under the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change (MoEFCC)) has set certain standards and timelines for the implementation of emission norms. The first standard, based on European emission standards, was introduced in the year 2000 under the title ‘India 2000’. Since then, Bharat Stage norms such as BS2, BS3 and BS4 have been released in the years 2005, 2010 and 2017 respectively. However, given the urgency of the situation in terms of the effects of climate change, it was decided that there would a substantial change in the new norms, even to the point of skipping the BS5 stage completely.

The targets assigned according to the BS6 norms include reducing the NOx emissions by 25% in petrol vehicles, restricting them to 60mg/km. In the case of direct injection engines, the particulate matter (PM) limit has been capped at 4.5mg/km. The change, however, has been the greatest when it comes to the norms for diesel engines. The limit for NOx emissions in diesel cars has been reduced from 250mg/km to 80mg/km while that for HC+NOx emissions has been brought down from 300mg/km to 170mg/km. The limits on PM emissions for both, diesel as well as petrol cars, are the same.

Putting BS4 fuel in a BS6 engine and vice versa

Starting from the 1st of April next year, it will be mandatory for pumps across the country to only dispense BS6 fuel. This type of fuel has relatively lower amounts of sulphur as compared to its predecessor, with certain additives making up for the lubrication that sulphur provides. Given the efficiency of burning that sulphur has, power output and fuel efficiency might see a minor drop as well. For example, the ARAI certified fuel efficiency in the BS6 petrol version of the Maruti Dzire has seen a drop from 22kmpl to 21.21kmpl, with respect to the BS4 version.

Given that only the sale and registration of BS4 vehicles will be banned and not their usage, the question arises as to whether BS6 fuel can be put in a BS4 engine. In the case of petrol engines, there shouldn’t be much of an issue. However, for diesel engines, given that the sulphur content in BS6 engines is about 5 times lesser, prolonged usage could damage the fuel injector on account of the increased wear and tear. As for usage the other way around, while putting BS4 fuel in a BS6 engine, companies like Kia and Hyundai, while sharing platforms and engines with each other, still have contradictory opinions as to its usage, with the former allowing it and the latter opposing.

How much more will the transition cost?

With the pumps already rolling out BS6 fuel in the Delhi NCR region, fuel prices haven’t really seen any change. However, given the investments of the petroleum refineries on the requisite technological upgrades, there is speculation that prices could rise once the BS6 norms are in place. As for the increase in vehicle prices, two wheelers could see a rise anywhere in the range of 10 to 15 percent, while petrol versions of four wheelers could see a minimal rise of about 2 to 3 percent. As for the diesel powered four wheelers, the 8 to 10 percent rise could turn out to be pretty costly, rising prices by as much as a lakh.

Should I buy a BS4 or a BS6 compliant vehicle?

Finally, addressing the elephant in the room, should one wait for the company to roll out the BS6 version of your favourite car or should you go ahead and buy the BS4 version instead? Well, if you’re looking at discounts, they’re already pretty high given the current state of the auto sector. However, the companies will be looking to phase out the BS4 versions by the end of the year and won’t be interested in offering much of a discount by the end of it. If you’re even somewhat of an environmentalist and are looking for your vehicle to have a good resale value, waiting for the company to release the BS6 version certainly makes sense. There are already a number of companies in the market, especially Maruti Suzuki, Mercedes Benz and Hyundai, to name only a few, who have introduced certain BS6 compliant versions of their cars in the market. Between buying a BS4 version and a BS6, the latter definitely seems to be the more prudent choice.

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