Lobbying by car industry weakens 2020 action plan

The European Commission has gone back on a series of commitments to reduce the environmental impacts of road vehicles. T&E says the climbdown carries the fingerprints of lobbying by the automotive industry, but will not help Europe’s car makers in the long term.

The Cars 2020 Action Plan, published earlier this month, leaves out strategies to tackle climate change from road freight emissions and omits previously announced plans for car fuel efficiency labels to help drivers choose more economic models. The Reuters news agency confirms it saw a draft of the action plan written in October that has the commitments to labelling and reducing lorry emissions redacted out. An unnamed Commission official told Reuters: ‘It looks like they will be dropped again.’

The action plan is aimed at helping Europe’s car industry remain competitive, but T&E argues the omissions are counterproductive. Whilst the industry continues to lobby against environmental regulations it considers cost it money, a range of recent studies indicates stricter fuel economy standards create jobs and economic value, the most recent being published by the German car maker Daimler that ironically has been one of the companies lobbying against stricter emissions limits.

The weakening of the action plan follows other disclosures from the Commission that it was abandoning legislation to make vans cleaner and more efficient, and was delaying a communication on emissions targets for cars and vans beyond 2020 – a particular concern for T&E. A number of German car companies are known to be keen to postpone any decision on post-2020 limits until beyond 2017, and last month the EU energy commissioner Günther Oettinger said in a letter to Volkswagen that the Commission felt it had no firm obligation to propose carbon limits for after 2020.

T&E’s clean cars officer Greg Archer said: ‘The industry constantly argues it needs long lead times to respond to regulations – that is why we should be agreeing fuel economy standards for 2025 now. Without regulation, car makers will not invest sufficiently in developing low-carbon vehicles, and that will provide an opportunity for their competitors in emerging economies to catch up. That is bad for the long-term competitiveness of the European automotive industry, bad for drivers’ fuel bills, and bad for the environment.’

One of the most persuasive arguments used by car lobbyists is that the motor industry is in crisis, and additional regulation will cost jobs. Yet car production in Europe grew by 5% to nearly 16 million vehicles in 2011, taking them to close to record levels. This growth is fuelled by strong exports. Archer added, ‘It’s the historic overcapacity in production that is leading to plant closures and job losses in Europe, not environmental regulations. Requiring cars to be more fuel-efficient stimulates innovation and creates new, high-quality jobs in the industry, saving drivers money that in turn creates jobs in the wider economy.’