Carmakers taking us for a ride?

September 3, 2009

Jos Dings writes in today's European Voice: There was something rather predictable about the response of vehicle manufacturers to news that the EU will propose fuel efficiency standards for vans and light trucks this month or in early October.

The targets would be “impossible to meet” and “unenforceable”, ACEA, their lobbyists, have said.

This response is getting old. It is the same tune that carmakers have been singing since environmental standards were first proposed for cars in the early 1990s, usually accompanied by the words “too costly”.

But these arguments sound increasingly hollow. Emissions from some diesel cars have plunged by 25% in the past two years, comparing equivalent models. But sticker prices have not risen. So either the cost estimates are exaggerated or carmakers are selling some of their most popular models at a big loss.

That is unlikely. What actually happens is that the mass production of new technology brings prices down, sometimes by a factor of ten.

By way of example, catalytic converters that were estimated by carmakers to cost €1,000 per vehicle before their introduction in the early 1990s, now cost around €100.

Vans are, from a technological point of view, just large cars. Indeed some ‘cars’, such as the Volkswagen Caddy Maxi Life, are literally just vans with seats in the back.

Adding technology such as ‘stop-start’ or downsized engines can be done quickly. The carmakers say it will take them seven years – that is not credible.

This ‘can’t do’ attitude also sounds ungrateful. All over Europe, governments have been falling over themselves to hand out massive research grants to carmakers, not to mention billions of euros in subsidies to buyers of new cars.

Would it not be nice if greener vans were the vehicle manufacturers’ way of saying ‘thank you’ to taxpayers for bailing them out? Sadly, it looks as if they just want to take our money and run.

Jos Dings
Director, Transport and Environment

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