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EU emissions figures show cars are getting heavier again

The European car fleet is getting heavier again, partly because the EU’s carbon dioxide standards are more lenient for heavy cars than for light cars. That is one of the conclusions from new data published by the EU last month. Average CO2 emissions from new cars fell by 3.7% in 2010, but without the rise in overall weight, the reduction would have been around 5%.

The 3.7% decrease leaves the average emissions of new cars at 140 grams per kilometre, which was the original voluntary target for 2008. The car makers’ failure to meet that target led to the EU’s first obligatory limits of 130 g/km by 2015. While the 2015 target now looks set to be met with some comfort, the 2010 3.7% emissions’ reduction represented a slowing down compared to the 5.1% decrease registered in 2009. Much of the reason for this is that the average weight of cars has risen by 28kg or 2%, as car makers increasingly market SUVs and so-called ‘crossover’ vehicles. SUVs’ share of the European market rose from 7% in 2006 to 11.5% in 2010, according to the automotive consultancy JD Power.

T&E programme manager Arne Richters said: ‘This report shows that cars are getting heavier again. After a drop in average weight linked to government subsidies which favoured smaller cars, the SUVisation of the EU fleet is back. This should come as no surprise, as EU rules favour heavier cars by allowing them to emit more CO2. That needs to change. In other words, the EU’s own rules are holding back more substantial CO2 reductions.’

Analysis by the European Environment Agency suggests Denmark and Portugal are the countries whose car sales showed the lowest emissions in 2010. The EEA has also found that the gap between petrol and diesel cars in terms of emissions is narrowing: average emissions from new diesel cars are 3.3 g/km less than for petrol cars; 10 years ago, diesel cars emitted 17% less CO2 than petrol cars.

The EU climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said the latest figures confirm that setting obligatory targets for car makers stimulates the automotive industry to produce cleaner cars.

In a separate development that highlights the same concern, Germany is to introduce a labelling scheme that is so strongly based on cars’ weight that it is easier for heavy cars to get a ‘green’ label than for light cars.

The scheme, approved by Germany’s upper house of parliament earlier this month, uses an A-G rating, but because of the strong weight-dependence of the rating, certain SUVs that emit around 190 g/km can achieve the second-highest category of B, the same as some of the most fuel-efficient cars on the German market. An example is the Porsche Cayenne SUV, which would qualify for B rating despite having emissions of 196 g/km, the same class of the Citroen C3 Hdi, which weighs half as much and emits 114 g/km.

Protests from environmental groups have been accompanied by objections from Fiat, Peugeot Citroen and Renault which, on average, produce the most fuel-efficient cars in Europe. French and Italian carmakers have asked the Commission to declare the German labelling system illegal, and the French and Italian government sent two letters to several commissioners claiming that the German law violates EU legislation on consumers’ rights and fair competition.

T&E’s German member VCD says the text of the new labelling system was co-written by the German car industry, which is anxious to claim environmental credit without reducing sales of SUVs and other large cars.