Cars21 can be useful and worthwhile – if it’s ambitious!

April 15, 2005

Editorial by Jos Dings One of this year’s Commission committee creations is the “Cars21” group. It is the baby of the industry commissioner Günter Verheugen, and is aimed at finding ways for the EU car industry be or remain competitive in the 21st century.

[mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]T&E has been critical of the unbalanced and heavily industry-biased composition of the group. As the terms of reference say the group is “expected to identify complementary and consistent policies that enhance economic competitiveness, road safety and the environmental performance of vehicles”, it is strange that organisations like T&E and our safety counterparts, the European Transport Safety Council, have been left out. But this is the past. The Cars21 group holds its first “high-level” meeting on 11 April and an open stakeholders meeting on 26 April, so now is the time to look ahead and work out what will make the initiative useful and worthwhile.

In terms of substance, it is absolutely vital that the group fleshes out an unambiguous roadmap towards the 120 g/km CO2 target, and dares to look further ahead to a time when 100 and 80 g/km limits will have to be met. EU leaders have confirmed they want a 15-30% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020, and given that many of today’s new cars will still be on the roads in 2020, only drastic and quick reductions will do if transport is to make anything like a meaningful contribution to this aim. This will not make cars unaffordable – on the contrary, it is likely to make driving a car even more affordable than it is today, and save the EU dozens of billions annually on oil imports.

In addition, the EU has an enormous responsibility, and opportunity, in setting ambitious environmental standards for its market. Virtually all Asian countries, including China and India (South Korea is an exception), closely follow EU car emission rules and adopt them quickly. EU leadership pays off here – the more progressive the EU standards, the greater the “first mover” advantage will be. There is more compelling evidence that strong and well-crafted environmental leadership pays off, as the Harvard academic Michael Porter has so convincingly demonstrated in his explanation of how tackling environmental issues does not restrain growth.

It is encouraging that the MEP Dorette Corbey has set up a parallel “low level group” that aims to take a more progressive stance on the issue and report to the high level group. Ever more stakeholders are starting to get engaged in the process. This is good – it makes it tough for the Cars21 group to just express its satisfaction about voluntary agreements and pursue a “business as usual” course. It is time for the whole fleet to become green, rather than just a few front runners.