For once, some good news about car makers and CO2

October 25, 2006

Editorial by Dudley Curtis If there ever was a bad news story about cars and the environment, the voluntary agreement signed by car makers and the EU in 1998 was it.

Before, during and ever since this gentlemen’s agreement was signed, T&E has said it would fail. With good reason. It lacks transparency: individual brands are not held responsible, instead they hide behind their industry associations and averages. There is no punishment for failure, or any reward for exceeding the target. It has been business as usual for the car companies. Or so we thought.

Overall it has been clear for years that the industry as a whole is way off track. T&E published figures for 2005 back in April that showed the makers would have to quadruple their latest improvement rate to reach the target by 2008.

Yet T&E’s latest research, published this month, has shown that a few big, profitable, mainstream manufacturers like Fiat, PSA, Renault and Ford have been improving efficiency and cutting emissions. If they had signed their own voluntary agreements, they would be on track to reach their target by 2008. They deserve a pat on the back.

The trouble is the other 75% of big brands have let the side down. Their progress has ranged from slow to almost non-existent. Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest brand, managed less than half the progress of Renault, the second biggest. VW is 50% off track.

Even Toyota, which appears to spend most of its advertising budget (in Europe) on claiming its aim is ‘zero emissions’, is not doing well. Just seventh place out of 20 in our ranking. They are 25% off track – not what you’d expect from the company that has made so much of its environmental reputation through the hybrid Prius.

The fact is, one or two very efficient models in the line-up is not enough. Car makers need to bring emissions down across their range. And they need regulation to do that. Regulation that punishes poor performance, rewards progress and holds individual brands to account. The European target is an average of 120 grams of CO2 per kilometre, originally set for 2005, then 2010 and now 2012. We need regulation that will achieve that goal and other targets beyond that date. Doubling fuel-efficiency in a decade is feasible. And it would not just be good news for the climate. It would save consumers money and help solve our dependence on imported oil at the same time.

The voluntary agreement has long passed the end of its warranty. Ageing and unreliable, it belongs in the scrap yard. It is time for Europe to develop shiny new, high-performance, legally binding targets that must be reached. Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines!

This news story is taken from the October 2006 edition of T&E Bulletin.