Carmakers to win ‘super credits’ from low-emission vehicles

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

The European Commission is planning to re-introduce a clause for ‘super credits’ that would reward manufacturers that switch to electric cars with permits to make high-emitting gas guzzlers, EURACTIV understands. The controversial clause will be part of proposals for CO2 in Cars, due to be announced today (11 July).

The overall draft target for 2020 – of 95 grams of CO2 per km (g/km) for cars and 147 g/km for vans – is expected to remain unchanged.

But sources indicate that the super-credit threshold for cars will be lowered to 35g/km, with a "multiplier factor" of 1.3, and a cap of 20,000 vehicles per manufacturer.

At present, only electric cars such as the Vauxhall Ampera, with its combined tail pipe emission of 27g/km, would qualify for the super-credit scheme. But critics argue that when full lifecycle emissions are counted, even the best performing electric vehicles top around 60g/km.

Greg Archer, a programme manager at Transport and Environment, an NGO, said that if super credits had been reintroduced into the proposal, it would be “regrettable”.

“They simply reduce the need for manufacturers to improve the efficiency of conventional vehicles,” he said. “This will cost drivers money in higher fuel bills.”

Complicated language

The complicated language belies a history of lobbying by car manufacturers against tough fuel efficiency standards, counter-lobbying by environmentalists, and attempts by Brussels to balance between these, and its own internal locus of gravity.

The enterprise directorate at the European Commission, for instance, has consistently supported super credits, much to the chagrin of the EU’s climate directorate.

Super credits were first introduced in the last round of fuel efficiency regulations in 2008 to entice car companies into manufacturing vehicles, with emissions below 50g/km.

Only electric vehicles could do that and, as the figure was substantially below the 175g/km target for 2017, each vehicle emitting less than 50g/km was counted as up to 3.5 vehicles, allowing manufacturers to emit the equivalent extra amount of CO2 from their other vehicles, up to a maximum of 25,000 vehicles per car-maker.

“The legislation aims at encouraging the development of [breakthrough] technologies, despite the high costs involved, by giving super credits for cars that emit less than 50g CO2/km until 2015,” the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) said at the time.

Passenger cars

However, passenger cars are currently responsible for about 12% of Europe’s carbon dioxide pollution and environmental concerns have been sharpened by a 26% rise in roadside emissions between 1990 and 2008.

The automobile industry association says that fuel efficiency regulations lead to a cost increase that they must pass back to the consumer, so hitting car sales at the forecourt.

But the evidence for this has been contested, and insiders say that ACEA lobbied hard for a super credits exemption in the current legislation.

A spokeswoman for ACEA declined to comment on any aspect of the EU’s new proposals, until they had been published.

Any super-credits concession has been condemned by the consumer organisation BEUC, and will not be universally popular in the car industry either. 

EURACTIV has seen a letter sent to José Manuel Barroso, the EU president, from ‘Cleaner Car Contracts’, an association of auto leasing and fleet owning companies, calling for the Commission to be “as ambitious as possible” in its proposals.

“Loopholes, super-credits or other modalities that lead to specific support for specific technologies are unwelcome as they make rational cost-based decisions unnecessarily complicated and unpredictable,” their letter says.

“Moreover, they slow down fuel-efficiency improvements,” the missive adds.

“Carmakers have been lobbying fiercely but the Commission must stand firm and not weaken its plans to make Europe’s cars more efficient and less damaging for the climate,” said Franziska Achterberg, the EU transport policy campaigner for Greenpeace.

“Cars are already getting cleaner, but strong targets are needed for 2020 and 2025 to ensure that ultra-efficient cars actually make it from the design floor to the road,” she added. “Improvements need to be made across the car fleet. Allowing the most efficient cars to count more towards the fleet emission average, even if they remain unsold, is a perverse accounting trick that would encourage carmakers to build more polluting cars. It would do nothing to accelerate the market success of efficient vehicles.”

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. Today it is the cornerstone of the EU's strategy to improve the fuel economy of cars and ensure that average emissions from new passenger cars in

The much-anticipated 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 to build a competitive transport system that will increase mobility, remove major barriers in key areas and fuel growth and employment.

At the same time, the Commission said its proposals will dramatically reduce Europe's dependence on imported oil and cut carbon emissions in transport by 60% by 2050.

  • 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

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