Greens urge Brussels to slam brakes on ‘super credits’ for low-emission cars

Five German car manufacturers are under pressure after the European Commission said it is investigating their involvement in a potential cartel.

The EU’s proposal to grant “super credits” to carmakers for low-emission vehicles threatens to add at least 10g of CO2 per kilometre to the EU’s 2020 target, say Green groups and other transport stakeholders.

The EU is aiming to reduce greenhouse emissions from cars from 130 to 95g/km between 2015 and 2020.

Under the current regulation for measuring super-credit eligibility, each car emitting less than 50g/km of CO2 would be counted as 3.5 passenger vehicles in 2012 and 2013, 2.5 in 2014, 1.5 in 2015 and then 1 from 2016 onwards in contributing to manufacturers’ CO2 targets for their entire fleet.

The law, which is being amended to implement the 2020 target, would change the super credit-to-car ratio to 1.3 for 2020-2023.

But Greens say it is essentially a loophole that does not provide industry with incentives to lower average fleet emissions, as carmakers can continue to build gas-guzzlers in exchange for producing a few low-emissions vehicles.

‘Weakened’ targets

Speaking at a European Parliament workshop on the EU’s Cars 2020 strategy, Greg Archer, a clean vehicles campaigner at Transport & Environment, told EU and industry officials: “With super credits we won’t have a 95-gram target other than on paper”.

Archer said the scheme in practice could ratchet up emissions levels to 105 or 115g/km in 2020. He called for lawmakers to set stronger targets for the post 2020 period.

The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) recently released a proposal calling for 2.5 credits for each low-emitting car for the period 2016-2023, a substantial increase on Commission figures.

Academics, and representatives from Greenpeace and the European consumer organisation BEUC voiced concerns the proposed regulation could weaken the emissions reduction target.

Franziska Achterberg, a Greenpeace EU transport advisor, said she thought there was strong evidence for the 10g figure given by Archer.

She told EURACTIV the 10g was based on battery electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles achieving a 5% share of the European car market, which she insisted was a within most projections for 2020.

“The minimal level that anybody assumes is 2% and the maximum level 20% or even 23%,” she said.


But Ivan Hodac, the secretary-general of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA), said super credits would encourage industry to invest in “expensive” sustainable technologies.

“We need incentives or [electric cars] won’t get onto the market, because they are not affordable”, he told officials.

He said super credits would attract more investment than the government offering subsidies for consumers to purchase low-carbon vehicles.

He said this would provide “an EU signal to manufacturers until such time that they become value for money”.

Average cars

But for Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, a professor at Duisburg-Essen University and the Centre for Automotive Research, industry should focus more on using current, inexpensive technology to lower the average emissions of its fleet rather than pouring huge amounts of money into advanced systems.

He said engine innovations meant that even current compact cars were on track to meet the 130g/km target well before 2015.

“You don’t need to invent anything new”, he said.

“The average car has too much power. If you reduce this it has a knock-on effect on emissions”.

Ferdinand Dudenhöffer, a professor at Duisburg-Essen University said: “Super credits give countries outside the EU a competitive advantage… [they] should be scrapped”.

Peter Mock, of the International Council for Clean Transportation, called for certainty post 2020, like in the United States, which has a target of 70g/km of CO2 for 2025.

Philip Owen, the head of the European Commission’s transport and the ozone unit, said: “If we did nothing we would see an improvement [in CO2 emissions] but not 95 grams”.

Ivan Hodac, the secretary general of the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) said: “The car industry is not sleeping behind the steering wheel. What other industry has reduced CO2 emissions in such a way.” He added: “95 is the most stringent target worldwide for 2020.”

Stefanie Heinzle, of BEUC, said she was against the “weakening of the target”, through super credits, saying they were “not in the interest of the consumer”. She also called for more regulatory certainty post-2020.

Erich Klemm, deputy chairman of the German cars association Daimler, said super credits could provide an opportunity for innovation. He said the EU should see how the market reacts for low-carbon vehicles before regulating the industry post-2020.

Passenger cars alone are responsible for around 12% of total EU emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas.

In 2007, the EU proposed legislation setting emission performance standards for new cars, which was adopted in 2009 by the European Parliament and the EU Council of Ministers. Under today's Cars Regulation, the fleet average to be achieved by all new cars is 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre (g/km) by 2015 – with the target phased in from 2012 - and 95g/km by 2020. 

The regulation is currently undergoing amendment in order to implement the 2020 target.

A White Paper on Transport, presented by the Commission in February 2011, flagged measures to raise the €1.8 trillion which the EU says is needed for infrastructure investment in the next 20 years.

Proposals published earlier this year have set a further targets of 95g for new passenger cars by 2020, and 147 g/km for vans. By the end of 2014, new targets could be announced for 2025 and 2030.


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