AM Online

Voluntary carbon levels agreement falls apart

The motor industry in Europe has been thrown into disarray by the European Commission’s decision to take control of attempts to reduce the carbon dioxide emissions of new cars.

The industry did have control in its own hands until the crisis came last week. Under the management of ACEA, the manufacturers’ European trade body, there had been agreement to reduce the average emissions of all cars built in Europe to 140g/km of carbon dioxide by next year.

For some time it has been clear that was not going to happen. It had reached only 162g/km in 2005 and in the nine years to 2004 it had fallen by just 13%.

Stavros Dimas, the European Environment Commissioner, seized these figures and made it clear he was intending to impose a mandatory 120g/km by 2012.

The EC Industry Commissioner, Günter Verheugen, then intervened. He had heard the displeasure of the President of the EU, Angela Merkel, also Chancellor of Germany, who made no bones about her concern for the luxury carmakers back home. “I will fight with all my strength,” she said.

A rushed compromise was concocted. The insistence on 120g/km remained but the last 10g of it would have other contributors: the oil companies are to be drawn in to create bio-fuels to be mixed with petrol. There will be measures to ensure that people drive properly (for example systems to ensure gears are changed at the right moment) and to improve the fuel efficiency of cars (better control of tyre pressures, for example). There is no indication of how the effectiveness of these will be measured.

It’s a pity that the voluntary system fell apart. Within it there was an understanding that part of Europe’s strength as a car maker is its diversity, and that Ferraris and Maybachs have a right to co-exist with Fiat Puntos.

Now, there is absolutely no idea how the headline figures will be applied to individual carmakers and what the penalties will be if targets are missed. There has been an immediate out-break of special pleading: the makers of small cars claim that they do not generate sufficient profit to research forcing down the CO2 emissions still further. The wealthy German makers of fast luxury cars are not keen to do all the work when they have a smaller number of sales across which to amortize the investment.

ACEA additionally pleads that the auto industry has soaked up more than its fair share of responsibility for averting climate change. Transport creates 14% of world CO2 emission – behind deforestation, power-generation, housing and industry. Within the 14%, the car accounts for 5% and within that, the European fleet is 1.5% of the world fleet.

To paraphrase the ACEA case: “We are 1.5% of the problem but are spending billions to create a tiny improvement.”

What ACEA wants is a coordinated approach. And that includes tax legislation to dissuade motorists from buying the heavy polluters.

#AM_ART_SPLIT# Conflicting demands on the road to regulation

ACEA wants fuel consumption improved by better traffic management. It wants better driving efficiency. And it wants the roads cleared of old cars. There are 60m in Europe more than 10 years old.

ACEA’s failure to hit its own forecast was created by an unrealistic target. MEPs have been saying since the start that it could not be done.

Safety regulators are also to blame. Much of the weight added to cars is down to ever more effective crash test regulation.

In addition, the SUV craze which swept the US was adopted in Europe and the weight and size of five-seater cars rose substantially.

Even for small cars, weight is growing. People are bigger and expect more comfort. Entertainment, navigation and communication opportunities are expanding fast.

All this has added to standard equipment and therefore to weight, fuel consumption and carbon emission of the small car.

The unexpected consequence is that size and safety are seen as interwoven. Nobody wants to be in the smaller car in a two-car accident. The consumer preference for size is firmly on safety and comfort.

The EC now has to draw up the rules that will force the carmakers to progress with carbon fuel consumption savings, and divert consumer thinking towards more economic cars.

Then the draft proposals will need the approval of national governments. It is thought unlikely that there will be any draft regulation before the spring of next year.

The AM view

The EC is looking in the wrong place. The issue isn’t so much cars that don’t meet the CO2 emissions target; it’s driving habits.

Drive a low emitting car (like a 1.2 Corsa at 139g/km) twice as far as a high emitter (ML350, 275g/km) and more CO2 is expelled into the atmosphere. Why penalize the X5 driver? Hit the inefficient driver – not car.

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