Brussels is poised to set two new carbon emissions targets that all new cars will need to meet by 2025 and 2030, as well as a standard of 95 grams of CO2 emissions per km (g/km) for 2020, according to a draft regulation seen by EurActiv.

The paper, due for release next month, is a statement of intent to the car industry, as the EU inches forward its plans to decarbonise the continent’s economy to between 80-95% of 1990 levels, by 2050.

Passenger cars are currently responsible for about 12% of Europe’s carbon dioxide pollution and EU minds have been focused by figures showing that between 1990 and 2008, road emissions actually increased by 26%.

“At the latest by 31 December 2014,” their draft regulation says, “the Commission shall on the basis of a review and impact assessment, if appropriate, make a proposal… to establish the level of stringency of long-term CO2 emission targets for new passenger cars for 2025 and 2030.”

The news was quickly welcomed in Germany, where ADAC, the largest automobile association in Europe said that urgent action was needed to end Europe’s “prolonged dependency on oil”

“In order to continue to give vehicle manufacturers planning certainty, a binding climate target should be fixed/set beyond 2020,” a statement from the group said.

As well as the 2020 target of 95 g/km for cars and 147 g/km for vans, the draft proposes that niche car makers benefit from a 2020 target which is 45% lower than their average specific emissions in 2007.

An "excess emissions premium" on cars that do not meet the 2020 targets would also be maintained at €95g per vehicle.

Consumers

“We think this is good news for consumers as it will help them to save money on fuel,” said Otmar Lell, a policy advisor for the Federation of German Consumer Organisations (VZBV) told EurActiv.

Petrol prices are currently at record levels in countries such as the UK but a recent study by the former chief of the UK’s Environment Agency, Malcom Fergusson, found that the 95g/km goal could save drivers up to €848 annually by 2030.

A target of 70g/km for 2025 would increase yearly savings to €1,134. 

“Fuel prices have been rising for quite some time,” Lell said, “the increases are becoming more significant, and the intervals between them shorter.”

Tougher CO2 standards equated to greater fuel efficiency and there was “just no alternative”, he said.

Times of austerity

But the news will not be welcomed by some sections of the car industry, which fret about the effects of passing on efficiency investments in the face of tough overseas competition at a time of austerity.

Sigrid de Vries, a spokeswoman for the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) told EurActiv that the 95 g/km target remained “very challenging”.

She cited factors including “the required technological transformation, the necessary market-uptake and the wider economic context that forces cost absorption through other channels than product price.”

A report this week by the CARS21 group, which brings together car manufacturers, EU officials and NGOs, found that the development and production costs of meeting the 2020 targets “are lower than in previous estimates”.  

But responding to a question from EurActiv on 6 June, Sergio Marchionne, the president of ACEA and CEO of Fiat, described this as “almost nonsensical”.  

“Not a single member inside our organisation that has deviated from the original cost estimate on delivery and compliance,” said Marchionne, who is also CEO of Fiat.

The CARS21 document “reflects a number of concessions that this industry made with the other participants to facilitate the drafting of the final version,” he explained

Trade union support

Europe’s trades unions though have adopted a more supportive stance to fuel efficiency improvements, which are likely to require more workers in the production process, and more hi-tech training. 

“Our past experience has shown that only strict legal frameworks will push the industry into the right direction,” said Wolf Jäcklein, the policy advisor to the IndustriAll union, which represents over 7 million workers in fields such as metalworking, energy, and mining.

“The process towards de-carbonisation of transport needs to be pursued,” he told EurActiv. “That’s the only way we can ensure a future for Europe’s automotive industry.”

Strong fuel efficiency regulations have given European cars an advantage in the international green car race, but this could be under threat.

In the US President Obama’s restructuring of the US car industry in 2009 led to an emissions standard for cars equivalent to 70-80g/km by 2025. If Europe does not follow suit, it risks being left behind

Industry observers say that CO2 reductions up to 60g/km – a likely target for 2025 or 2030 – could be accommodated by increased hybridisation of vehicles.

“Beyond that, we have move to pure electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles, and that’s where it starts to get interesting,” one analyst told EurActiv.

If sufficient investment in renewable energy and low carbon technologies has been made by this point, it could mark the moment when decarbonisation of Europe’s road transport system becomes technically feasible.

Franziska Achterberg of Greenpeace called for 2025 target to be brought forward “as soon as possible”. 

“This will bring efficient cars out of the motor shows and onto Europe’s roads and help unlock the technologies we need to get off oil altogether,” she said.