New CO2 standards for cars and vans

Aiming for CO2 targets beyond 2025? Photo: Murray Adamson / BY-ND

Carbon dioxide standards have pushed the auto industry to achieve the same efficiency improvements in the last three years as achieved in the previous eight years. The European Commission has now presented proposals on how standards can be tightened from 2020 and onwards.

Two new carbon dioxide (CO2) targets were presented in a draft proposal from the European Commission on 11 July; average emissions from new cars should be 95 grams per kilometre by 2020 and the equivalent for vans 147 grams per kilometre by 2020.

Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action, emphasised the economic benefits of the proposed legislation: “With our proposals we are not only protecting the climate and saving consumers money. We are also boosting innovation and competitiveness in the European automotive industry. And we will create substantial numbers of jobs as a result. This is a clear win-win situation for everyone. This is one more important step towards a competitive, low-carbon economy.”

Ivan Hodac, Secretary General at the European Automobile Association commented:  “These are tough targets – the toughest in the world” and continued: “Considering that most manufacturers are losing money in Europe at the moment, the industry needs as competitive a framework as possible. Targets – while ambitious – must be feasible.”

Environmental organisations welcomed the new legislation, but also argued that it had been possible to adopt an even stricter standard of 80 gram per kilometre.  This can be justified by the fact that it has been very easy for the industry to adapt to the current rules. In three years (2009-2011) the average emissions in the EU-15 decreased by 18.1 g/km, which is almost as much as the reduction of 18.9 g/km in the eight years (2000-2008) prior to the introduction of the standard.  Greg Archer, programme manager for clean vehicles at Transport and Environment (T&E) said:

“Last time the EU set a CO2 standard for new vehicles, carmakers whined that cars would become unaffordable.  That didn’t happen, car prices came down in real terms and consumers have benefited considerably from improved fuel efficiency.”

Another fact that indicates there is scope for tougher targets is that several member states (Belgium, Denmark, France, Ireland, Italy, Malta, the Netherlands and Portugal) had by 2011 already achieved average emissions below the target for 2013 (130g/km).

Environmental groups also expressed the need to adopt more long-term targets, for instance a 60 gram per kilometre target by 2025. The Commission plans to propose standards for 2025 and 2030 in 2014. Such longer-term targets have already been adopted in the United States in July this year. Greg Archer T&E:

“Thanks to new rules put in place by the U.S. administration, the typical American car by 2025 will include more advanced technologies for fuel efficiency than the average European vehicle. There is a real danger that Europe is going to lose its competitive edge in low carbon vehicles if suppliers don’t get the investment certainty needed to develop advanced technologies.”   

The Commission is also criticised for proposing a van standard that is much weaker than the one for cars. Compared to 2010 average emissions the proposed standards will mean a 30 per cent reduction for cars, but only a 19 per cent reduction for vans. Greenpeace writes in a press release: “[This] could encourage carmakers to attempt to reclassify large cars as vans to avoid tighter targets”.

The main design model for the new standards is unchanged from the previous one. That is, no targeting of individual vehicles – instead it is the average emissions from each manufacturer’s annual fleet that counts. The target for each automaker depends linearly on the mass composition of all cars produced one year. Heavy vehicles are allowed to emit more than light vehicles.

However this weight-based model has been criticised for inhibiting producers from developing lighter cars with the same capacity as existing heavy models. Instead, a footprint (track width times wheelbase) model is suggested in which the area between the wheels should determine the emissions allowed. The Commission’s impact assessment concludes that the footprint model is slightly more cost effective than a weight-based one, but the latter is still considered preferable to ensure “certainty for industry”, but the conclusions are then ended: “a debate on a future change to footprint is desirable”. The possibility to later shift to a footprint model is thus left open.

As with the previous standards, there are also exceptions to the general principle. The so-called “super credits” imply that cars (not vans) that emit less than 35 g/km (in practice, this means electric cars) will count as 1.3 cars, which leads to average emissions above the intended 95 g/km. Each manufacturer will be allowed to use 20,000 super credits in 2020-2023.  This regulatory construction is meant to speed up technological innovation. Greenpeace calls it “an accounting trick”, which will allow manufacturers to produce more of their most polluting cars.

The design of the fines system will also be the same as for the preceding period, i.e. €95 for each exceeding gram per kilometre and vehicle.
Car manufacturers producing fewer than 10,000 cars a year can, as previously, apply for individual goals. Companies that produce fewer than 500 cars a year get a complete exemption from the rules.

Kajsa Lindqvist

The new legislation will be amendments to the two existing regulations for CO2 requirements for cars and vans (EC) No 443/2009 and (EU) No 510/2011)

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