New cars and vans in the European Union will produce one-third less carbon dioxide within eight years, under proposed new rules set out on Wednesday (11 July) in Brussels.
By 2020, the average emissions from new cars will have to be no more than 95g of carbon dioxide per kilometre driven, a cut of more than 40g from today's levels and of 35g/km compared with the 2015 target, if the proposed new regulations are accepted.
Connie Hedegaard, climate chief of the European commission, said the goals were "ambitious but achievable" and would benefit consumers, through fuel cost savings, and help the EU's car-making industry compete with overseas manufacturers.
She said: "What we are proposing is a fair and balanced regulation."
The proposals will now have to be accepted by member states and the European parliament, if they are to come into force. That process could be tricky as car companies are continuing to lobby politicians on the goals.
According to the EU's estimates, as a result of the new goals the average driver of a new car in 2020 would save about €340 in the first year on fuel costs, and between about €2,900 and €3,800 over the car's average 13-year lifetime, compared with the 2015 target. This would equate to total savings of about €30bn a year in fuel costs, which could increase EU GDP by €12bn a year and create new jobs, as well as saving about 160m tonnes of imported oil.
But car manufacturers have been lobbying heavily against the proposals in the corridors of Brussels, arguing that the strict targets would incur high costs in research and development and in adapting production lines.
Hedegaard dismissed these claims, pointing out that car companies made the same protests before the proposals for the 2015 targets. Yet manufacturers have now almost met the 2015 targets, years ahead of time. "Look back at all the terrible things that [they said] would happen, then go and see what the manufacturers are doing – this is where the innovation curve took off," she said.
Targets provided a spur to growth, Hedegaard said. "Anyone buying a car notices it is more fuel efficient than a few years back – this did not happen automatically, but [as a result of] targets," she said.
There was also clear popular demand for more fuel-efficient models, she said: "[European] citizens would like cheaper cars."
Green campaigners also attacked the proposals as too weak. Greenpeace pointed out that instead of calculating average fleet emissions by adding the emissions of each car and dividing by the number of cars made, manufacturers would be allowed to continue making big and heavy cars with high emissions, while offsetting this through making a smaller number of more efficient cars. This, the pressure group argued, would mean manufacturers could continue to sell inefficient cars and the actual carbon savings would be less than intended.
Franziska Achterberg, transport policy director for Greenpeace in the EU, said: "These proposed efficiency standards bear the fingerprints of the car lobby. It is a timid opening move by the commission ahead of tough negotiations with the European parliament and EU governments. There is a lot to be gained from strong efficiency targets, both for drivers and the climate."
Emissions from vans will have to be cut to 147g/km in 2020, compared with 181.4g in 2010, with an interim target of 175g from 2017. Greenpeace said this was also inadequate.
Greg Archer, programme manager for clean vehicles at Transport and Environment, a Brussels green group, said: "Fuel economy standards are good for jobs and the European economy, good for drivers and good for the planet. This is a sound proposal, but the benefits could have been even greater had the commission shown more ambition."
The group said that a 2020 target of 80g/km was feasible, and would save drivers about €650 a year, and that a further 2025 target of 60g/km should also have been set.
Hedegaard said the commission was now working on potential post-2020 targets.
“It is clear that CO2 levels from vehicles have to continue on their downward trend and the industry is committed to deliver on this,” said Ivan Hodac, the secretary general of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA). But he added that “these are tough targets - the toughest in the world.”
"Considering that most manufacturers are losing money in Europe at the moment, the industry needs as competitive a framework as possible. Targets - while ambitious - must be feasible. The overall regulatory framework and market environment must be supportive, as also agreed in the recently concluded CARS 21 process," he said. "The industry is diverse; the CO2-legislation is complex, and the cost implications are huge. ACEA and its members will now take the time they need to investigate the details of these proposals and their envisaged consequences."
But for BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, the European Commission’s new proposals were clearly good news for motorists. “Soaring fuel prices have been nightmarish for most European car drivers in recent times,” said Monique Goyens, BEUC’s director general. “By obliging car companies to reduce their fleet’s CO2 emissions, consumers will save money at the petrol pump. Our estimates show that car drivers can save between €344 and €465 depending on whether they drive a new petrol or diesel car.”
“Fuel prices know only one direction and projections expect them to continue rising,” she continued. “As consumers depend on their cars to get to work or bring their kids to school, saving on fuel costs is essential.” She was dismissive of car manufacturers’ complaints about the regulation. “Substantial recent CO2 reductions have shown car makers’ protests against the current targets to be wide of the mark,” she said. “We believe the new 95 gram target is achievable and urge European legislators to start considering even more ambitious targets for 2025 and 2030. This would protect consumers from hikes in fuel prices and help industry invest in the long run.”
“We are disappointed that the Commission has once again proposed a regulation that is not technology neutral, since it maintains the mass based calculation method and gives heavier cars the opportunity to emit more CO2,” said Patrick de Schrynmakers, the secretary-general of the European Aluminium Association. “A size based regulation encourages light-weighting without downsizing. It will not only have environmental benefits, but have also a positive effect for vehicle safety,” he added.
The Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) was more unreserved in its welcome for the new legislation. “Quite apart from the important environmental savings expected, new limits could save the average motorist hundreds of euros annually”, said Werner Kraus, the FIA Region 1 President. “The European Commission is providing an important incentive for industry to develop clean technologies which will benefit all who are interested in sustainable mobility in terms of both cost and the environment”, he said. “With rising oil prices, the new limits should allow families some much needed relief in terms of fuel costs”.
However the Green Party’s co-president Rebecca Harms was more ambivalent. “This is a missed opportunity to shore up the EU's faltering car emissions rules,” she said. “The watered-down proposals presented today have been strongly influenced by lobbying from big car manufacturers. As a result the curve that was adopted for implementing the limit across the EU's new car fleet is skewed to the advantage of manufacturers of bigger, more polluting cars. This will leave manufacturers of smaller, more efficient cars to shoulder more of the burden. The Commission also scaled back original proposals committing to introduce limits beyond 2020.”
“Not only has the Commission failed to argue for more ambitious limits - in spite of this being technically possible and in the interest of consumers,” she went on, “it has also not sought to close some of the loopholes, which have undermined the current legislation. Provisions on 'supercredits' for low emissions cars and exemptions for eco-innovation have effectively further undercut the already weak limits. By failing to resolve this, the Commission is in effect legislating for car manufacturers to bypass their limits.”
Werner Kraus, President at the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) Region I office, is welcoming the prospect of lower costs and improved efficiency in the European Commission's proposal:
“Quite apart from the important environmental savings expected, new limits could save the average motorist hundreds of euro annually,” he said.
“The European Commission is providing an important incentive for industry to develop clean technologies which will benefit all who are interested in sustainable mobility in terms of both cost and the environment,” Kraus added.
German MEP Matthias Groote from the Socialists & Democrats group and Chair of the Environment Committee, also commented:
"The draft legislation proposed today would keep us on track for our existing commitments but I believe we can and should do more to reduce vehicle CO2 emissions and improve fuel efficiency for motorists."
The environmental campaigning organisation Greenpeace criticised the European Commission, saying it is diluting new proposed vehicle efficiency standards, following pressure from the car industry.
"These proposed efficiency standards bear the fingerprints of the car lobby. It is a timid opening move by the Commission ahead of tough negotiations with the European Parliament and EU governments. There is a lot to be gained from strong efficiency targets, both for drivers and the climate," Greenpeace EU transport policy director Franziska Achterberg said.
British MEP Chris Davies from the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe said the EU measures have led to a 15% improvement in the fuel efficiency of new cars over the past five years, and a similar reduction in CO2 emissions which is good, but could be better.
"The procedures for testing new vehicles must reflect the reality. What car buyers read in the advertising should be what they get in practise," Davies stated.
Rebecca Harms, German MEP representing the Group of Greens, said it was a missed opportunity to shore up the EU's faltering car emissions rules.
“The watered-down proposals presented today (yesterday) have been strongly influenced by lobbying from big car manufacturers. As a result the curve that was adopted for implementing the limit across the EU's new car fleet is skewed to the advantage of manufacturers of bigger, more polluting cars."
- July 2012: European Commission to publish proposals for 2020 CO2 targets for auto-industry
- 2013: Review of 2020 target expected to wrap up
- 31 Dec. 2014: EU expected to complete review of targets for 2020 and 2025
- 1 Jan. 2015: 130 grams of CO2 per km target to be enforced across Europe
- 2020: 95 grams of CO2 per km target expected to enter force across Europe
- 2025: European Commission could impose another milestone on the road to decarbonsiation by 2050
- 2030: European Commission could impose another milestone on the road to decarbonsiation by 2050