Dyson vs Bosch

From 21 October 2015 (we’re migrating the best of our blog from coolproducts.eu)

Sir Dyson clanged down his sword on arch rival Bosch again yesterday, publicly accusing his German foe of pulling VW tricks in some of its vacuum cleaners. Dyson is wrong, but has a point.

Never one to miss a PR opportunity, Dyson told the Telegraph “Bosch has installed control electronics into some of its machines to wrongfully increase energy consumption when in use — to cheat the EU energy label. Their behaviour is akin to that seen in the Volkswagen scandal.”

But Bosch is playing within the rules, so the VW comparison doesn’t stand. VW played outside the rules, which is why it is now on its knees.

Dyson has a point when he says Bosch is duping consumers, and it’s not the only one. Bosch’s great cleaners often bear high-ranking energy labels based on tests with empty bags, the legal standard. Consumers think ‘this is what the product takes to run’. What else would they think? But sensors in some vacuums tell it to step up a gear when the bag fills. Neat feature, but it makes the label energy score wrong, wildly wrong when compared to normal conditions and partly filled dust bags. Something similar, but less high-tech is happening with household goods. An eco setting on some appliances determines their label score, but performance changes radically as soon as its owner choses other settings.

So what is to blame here, the rules or the firms? Shouldn’t the lab tests reflect reality? Dyson has a point, but he has again laid it on thick. Tests will never reflect reality, since reality changes from home to home. Also, there are cost implications and it may be better to save that taxpayer cash and just accept that all firms compete on a level playing field of somewhat imperfect tests. The important point is to ensure it is level and that shoppers can compare products.

Not withstanding the ‘get out of jail free ecobutton’ problem, or the fact that the standardisation groups that set the lab tests are dominated by industry with a minor place for civil society organisations like ours, Coolproducts is relatively happy that tests are on a level. Dyson says today’s bag-based vacuum tests disadvantage his technology and we think he has a point. The test regime might need to catch up with his innovation, something the Commission is doing by suggesting tests use a partly filled bag, rather than an empty one as now. The fact that the Commission can only request the standardisation bodies to do this seems a little worrying. We’re not suggesting this sits with the legislator — defining standards requires a deep technical knowledge that manufacturers have, and leaving it with them saves the public money. But the process could be more transparent and political hotcakes could be taken on by the Commission.

A related issue not many are yet talking about is the suspected abuse of tolerances. These are margins for error when it comes to assessing compliance with efficiency requirements and a correct label, based on imperfect tests and variation in product lines. The problem is, times have changed and this isn’t much of an issue any more. So much so the US does not permit tolerances at all. They are only supposed to be used by authorities to cut some slack, but some suspect that manufacturers are fond of tipple themselves.

Let’s not throw out the baby with the bathwater. Recent market data from GfK tells us that EU rules have utterly transformed the vacuum market. Before, firms were locked into a mad arms race, making and marketing ever more powerful machines to a gullible public. Manufacturers were happy to trade off good design for brute power. A classic example of why the market cannot be left to its own devices (take note @DanHannanMEP). We were on a one way street to higher home energy bills and greater dependence on Russian energy supplies, until the EU stepped in. The GfK data shows that one year after the EU put in place a controversial power cap and ordered that all vacuums come with an energy label, firms are now competing on energy efficiency basis instead, with no loss of performance or consumer choice.

The take-home in all this is that the system isn’t perfect, there are a few rotten apples, but the benefits of these rules is massive. What we need are improved test regimes and agencies up to the task of inspecting and enforcing them, so good firms can get on with their work and the bad are punished.

Read more in the Guardian

Image thanks: Eva Rinaldi