Car emissions spike, as countries plan ‘cash for clunkers’ redux

Lamborghini was the only European marque to miss its 2018 target. [EPA-STR]

Europe’s average CO2 emissions from new cars increased again in 2018, according to data released on Wednesday (3 June) by the EU’s environment agency. National plans aimed at stimulating the sector could worsen those figures further.

According to the EEA report, fleet emissions for new cars registered in the EU, UK and Iceland increased by 2.3g of CO2 per kilometre in 2018. That puts the fleet average at 120.8g, significantly above an EU-wide target of 95g that kicks in at the end of 2020.

Emissions also increased in 2017.

The resurgence of petrol cars and more purchases of large SUVs have pushed CO2 output up, as motorists turn away from diesel cars in the wake of the Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal that broke in 2015.

“The ‘de-dieselisation’ of the fleet has increased average emissions but its overall effect on each car manufacturer’s performance depends on the fleet characteristic of the manufacturer,” the report explains.

Van emissions also grew by just over 1g per km, following five years of steady decline. The EEA report explains that the spike is due to “many factors”, including an increase in vehicle size and limited uptake of zero or low-emission models.

EU agrees on 37.5% CO2 reduction for cars by 2030

EU negotiators on Monday evening (17 December) agreed on CO2 emission rules for cars and vans, as the Austrian presidency of the EU defied expectations and brokered a compromise.

According to the data, every auto manufacturer – except for luxury carmaker Lamborghini – actually met their 2018 emission benchmarks, despite the fleet-wide emissions spike. Every van manufacturer also achieved their targets.

But now the race is on to hit the 2020 goals, which the EEA warns will be a hard ask for some marques, given how far they are from their individual yardsticks.

The data shows that Toyota, Hyundai, Renault, Nissan and Kia – which specialise in compact cars and have made significant inroads into electric vehicle technology – are the five best-placed manufacturers. Toyota only needs to bridge a 5g gap.

Jaguar Land Rover, Mazda, Volvo, Daimler and Audi are the worst-placed. The EEA’s data does not take into account certain derogations that will reduce CO2-cutting burdens but the outlook is still grim for Japanese firm Mazda, which is 39g off course.

Fiat-Chrysler (FCA) also has work to do, despite entering an arrangement with US EV specialist Tesla that will see Elon Musk’s firm pool its emission data with the Italo-American company.

FCA has received widespread criticism in recent weeks for requesting more than €6bn in aid from the Italian government, despite basing its corporate headquarters in the Netherlands. 

Trouble around the bend?

The coronavirus outbreak has heavily disrupted the automotive industry, as lockdown measures forced factories to shut up shop and cut global supply chains. The pandemic’s economic impact is also on track to slash already-decreasing demand for new purchases.

As part of stimulus packages aimed at jump-starting the economy, European governments have started to unveil tailored measures for carmakers that differ greatly in their scope and conditions.

The French government lifted the lid on an €8bn programme last week, which obligates its companies to protect domestic production and relocate manufacturing back to France when possible.

President Emmanuel Macron’s scheme also commits the likes of Renault and Peugeot to greater electric vehicle production numbers and bigger involvement in a pan-European battery strategy.

The package also includes incentives for consumers, including an EV subsidy and a scrappage scheme for petrol and diesel cars, which environmental groups had hoped would be cut from the final offering.

Macron demands carmakers turn to 'Made in France' for €8bn virus aid

French President Emmanuel Macron unveiled on Tuesday (26 May) an €8 billion aid package for the auto industry, which includes increased subsidies for electric car purchases and encourages manufacturers to relocate their factories back to France.

In Germany, the government is on the verge of unveiling its own stimulus plan for its powerful automobile industry, after talks between coalition parties stretched through Tuesday night (2 June).

The Social Democrats have insisted that they will veto any attempt to include traditional combustion engines in the mix but the larger CDU/CSU faction is reportedly pushing for their eligibility. A decision is expected later today.

Research organisation the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) concluded in a study last week that if Berlin decides to roll out subsidised scrappage schemes for all car types, CO2 emissions will increase by 1%.

The ICCT data added that if the government targets its support just at electric vehicles, emissions could plummet by 62%.

‘Cash for clunkers’ schemes – named after a $3bn US policy – are divisive, given that economic analyses often show that they have limited impact on stimulating growth or contributing to environmental targets.

A 2018 stocktake of Germany’s last attempt at the policy, which was fuelled with €5bn, found that the scheme led to a spike in emissions, as motorists traded in smaller, older cars for newer but larger models.

“Increased emissions over the lifetime of the new vehicles might more than offset the reduction of CO2 emissions resulting from scrapping the clunkers, such that the environmental premium might have hurt the environment in the long-run,” the study suggested.

Green ‘cash for clunkers’ deals on the starting grid

Car renewal schemes aimed at boosting the automotive industry and the wider economy during the virus recovery period are likely to be linked to climate targets, although the actual effectiveness of such programmes is still a matter of debate.

The UK is also on the cusp of launching its own stimulus package. The Guardian reported that the British auto lobby wants a £1.5bn scheme that will be open to all car types, not just targeted at electric vehicles.

Plans under consideration by the government would see £2,500 knocked off the purchase price of vehicles and would be open to 600,000 applicants.

[Edited by Benjamin Fox]

Subscribe to our newsletters