Future cars must be lighter – time for member states to act!

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Promoted content


The Paris agreement confirmed the need for the transport sector to urgently curb its CO2 emissions drastically, write Patrik Ragnarsson and Coline Lavorel.

Patrik Ragnarsson is the senior manager of automotive & transport group, and Coline Lavorel is the senior manager for public affairs and sustainability at European Aluminium.

The revision of the CO2 standards for cars and vans is an opportunity for policy-makers at EU and national levels to take a stand for a fully decarbonised transport system and to make Europe lead in the fight against climate change.

Technological shift is key in this transition. All technologies should be made available as every gram of COsaved counts.

Lightweight solutions certainly are among those technologies that contribute to directly reduce CO2 emissions from the transport sector. Benefits to the environment and to society are real and immediate: 100 kg of lightweighting can save up to 8 gr of CO2 per km travelled.

As a lightweight material, aluminium can be an important facilitator for the move to a decarbonised mobility system.

But the EU Commission’s proposal to revise the regulation of CO2 emissions from cars and vans is not technology neutral as it keeps the mass-based parameter as the way to define the level of CO2 targets from car manufacturers. This parameter disincentivises OEMs to make cars lighter, which would reduce CO2 emissions and fuel consumption.

Several studies show that the mass-based parameter does not provide any environmental nor social benefits. It even has a perverse effect of offsetting part of the CO2 reduction from lightweighting by giving more stringent CO2 targets to car manufacturers that actually invest in lightweighting.

The mass-based parameter therefore limits the range of options for reducing CO2 emissions, which results in smaller CO2 reductions and higher compliance costs for manufacturers. 

After the Paris agreement, it is clear that without a political signal at EU level, there will be no real transition to a decarbonised transport system. Setting more ambitious targets for 2025 and 2030 as the EU Parliament asked for in a plenary vote is certainly a step in the right direction.

However, setting higher targets without looking at the way CO2 limits are defined, is only a half-way solution. A comprehensive revision of the regulation implies to delete the mass-based parameter and once and for all make the regulation truly technology neutral.

The EU Parliament missed an opportunity to change the situation, despite the support from several political groups to delete the parameter. It is now in the hands of EU Member States to send a clear signal that all cars should improve their performance.

With new technologies such as electrification and hybridisation, the largest potential for CO2 reduction can actually be achieved by the heaviest cars. To define future CO2 targets based on the vehicle weight will therefore be even less intuitive going forward.

We call on EU member states to either delete the mass parameter or include an upper limit for the slope of the limit value curve in the current regulation. Indeed, with the current regulation based on mass, there is a risk for a “brick in the boot” effect, which can be expressed in adding weight to vehicles in order to get closer to the target.

To reduce the level of uncertainty and ensure that heavier cars will have to improve their performance on a continuous basis, the current regulation must include a guarantee that the future slope of the limit value curve will not be steeper than the current one.

These changes will ensure that the weight dependence of the target continues to be reduced. Something that should have been the intention of the EU Commission’s proposal.

Subscribe to our newsletters