Last reviewed 26 September 2012

Rob Bells examines the proposals the European Commission has put forward for emissions reduction targets for road transport.

“Further carbon dioxide (CO2) emission reductions from cars and vans will be a win-win for the climate, consumers, innovation and jobs,” according to the European Commission, which has put forward proposals for implementation of targets it says will “further considerably reduce CO2 emissions by 2020”.

The proposals will cut average emissions from new cars to 95 grams of CO2 per km (g CO2/km) in 2020 from 135.7g in 2011 and a mandatory target of 130g in 2015. Emissions from vans will be reduced to 147g CO2/km in 2020 from 181.4g in 2010 (the latest year for which figures are available) and will face a mandatory target of 175g in 2017.

The mandatory targets for the vehicle manufacturing industry have already been put into place in legislation, but have yet to be implemented. The Commission says it has carried out a technical and economic analysis and is now ready to set out the nuts and bolts of how the targets will be met and policed.

EU Commissioner for Climate Action Connie Hedegaard says: “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 and one more important step towards a competitive, low-carbon economy. More CO2 reductions beyond 2020 need to be prepared and these will be considered in consultation with stakeholders.”

Achievable targets?

The Commission says its analysis shows the 2020 targets are achievable, economically sound and cost effective. A Commission statement says: “The necessary technology is readily available, its cost is substantially lower than previously thought, and its implementation should boost employment and GDP and benefit consumers and industry.”

However, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) says it will need to work with its members to conduct a full analysis of how the proposed targets should be reached, as well as their feasibility, and what they mean in practice for the industry as a whole.

An ACEA statement says: “The auto industry shares concerns about global warming and is contributing actively to find sustainable solutions. In 2011, average fleet emissions were 136.6 gCO2/km compared to 186 gCO2/km in 1995, a 26.6% decrease over the period.”

ACEA Secretary-General Ivan Hodac went on to describe the targets as the toughest in the world. He says: “It is clear CO2 levels from vehicles have to continue on their downward trend and the industry is committed to deliver on this. However, the proposal to reach a fleet-average target of 95 gCO2/km for cars and 147 gCO2/km for vans by 2020 will remain extremely challenging.

“These are tough targets — the toughest in the world. Indeed, contrary to some claims, the proposed targets for the European fleet are far more stringent than those in the US, China or Japan.”

Lobby group Transport & Environment (T&E) disagrees, however, saying that while it welcomes the proposals, “developments elsewhere in the world mean the 95g limit may now be too weak to safeguard EU leadership on fuel-efficient cars”.

T&E Cars Manager Greg Archer says: ‘Tighter CO2 standards will be welcomed by drivers across Europe. But thanks to new rules put in place by the US administration, the typical American car by 2025 will include more advanced technologies for fuel efficiency than the average European car.

“There is a real danger 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.”

However, Mr Hodac says the new rules will increase manufacturing costs in Europe, creating a competitive disadvantage for the region and further slowing renewal of the fleet.

“Targets, while ambitious, must be feasible. The industry is diverse; the CO2 legislation is complex, and the cost implications are huge. ACEA and its members will now take the time they need to investigate the details of these proposals and their envisaged consequences.”

Consumer savings

The Commission says as well as environmental benefits, consumers will save money. According to a Commission statement: “Each new car will on average save its owner around €340 (£270) in fuel costs in the first year, and an estimated €2904 to €3836 over the car's lifetime compared with the 2015 target.”

It was claimed consumers will save around €30 billion a year in fuel costs overall, and estimated the targets could increase EU GDP by €12 billion annually. The Commission’s research suggests 160 million tonnes of oil — worth around €70 billion at today's prices — will be saved, and CO2 emissions will fall by 420 million tonnes in the period to 2030.

Boosting innovation

The Commission also believes the plans will spur innovation and competitiveness. It says: “The 2020 targets offer a clear and stable legal environment for investment, and will stimulate innovation by vehicle producers and component suppliers, further strengthening the EU industry's competitive advantage.

“The introduction of similar CO2 or fuel efficiency standards in further countries would increase demand for CO2-reducing technologies and more efficient cars made in Europe.”

Greg Archer agrees, and accused the vehicle industry of crying wolf by claiming the targets will put “an extra strain on manufacturers”, as claimed by Mr Hodac. Mr Archer says: “There’s no doubt legislation provides a massive boost to innovation, and costs fall over time, so the EU should be bolder this time.”

Transport & Environment believes the Commission should have done more, and has failed in the arena of light commercial vehicles such as vans. Mr Archer tells Croner: “Yes, we very much welcome the proposal, but the Commission could and should have gone further.

“The 2020 target for cars could have been strengthened to 80g CO2/km and a new target of 60g/km could easily have been set for 2025. If the 2020 CO2 limit for cars had been set at 80g, this would have allowed drivers to save an average of €650 in fuel costs per year compared to €500 with the 95g target.

“And while for cars at least something has been done, the proposal is very disappointing as regards vans. Commercial vehicles are asked to reduce their CO2 emissions by only 19% in ten years, and a large number of vans available nowadays on the market already meet the 2020 target of 147g foreseen by the proposal.

“It’s clearly nonsense to set a target for vans that is so much less ambitious than for cars. If car makers have to develop technologies for cars, it is a real waste to not put them in vans, but instead leave them on the shelf.”

The proposals will now be submitted to the European Parliament and Council for discussion and adoption under normal legislative procedures.