The recent European Commission proposal on CO2 regulations for cars and vans to 2030 has provided the car industry with an early christmas gift. The unambitious 3%pa improvement rate and removal of a binding sales target for zero-emission vehicles (ZEV) followed last minute lobbying by carmakers. With Vice President Sefcovic, and the architects of the package Commissioners Cañete, Bulc and Bienkowksa all aligned in favour of a system of credits and, crucially, debits for carmakers that exceeded or breached a ZEV sales target, the package was virtually finalised before a last-minute intervention diluted the proposal.
On 8 November the European Commission has the opportunity to transform the European car industry and keep Europe safe and competitive in a decarbonised world. On that day the EU executive will propose a law that regulates the fuel efficiency and CO2 emissions of new cars and vans. The choices it makes – what level of ambition, a zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) mandate or not, 2025 target or not – will determine the future of the European and global auto industry.
Last month’s disclosure in Der Spiegel of a cartel between Volkswagen, BMW, Audi, Porsche and Mercedes bore striking similarities to the recently concluded truck case that lead to a fine of almost €3 billion. In that case, truckmaker MAN (also part of VW) blew the lid on the fixing of prices charged to customers for better emissions control systems needed to meet new regulations and how these costs were passed on to customers. Five companies were fined including the Mercedes truck division Daimler.
After many false dawns the electric car is finally on a trajectory to replace the internal combustion engine.
Last week I was in Munich for the so-called LKW-Gipfel; a summit of Europe’s truck industry executives. The Gipfel had an impressive line up. But before the CEOs of MAN, IVECO, Volvo and Scania delivered their keynotes, Matthias Wissmann, the German automotive industry’s (VDA) chief lobbyist, was given the stage.
The average car sits unused for more than 90% of the time, carries on average just one and a half people and costs on average €6,500 a year to own and run. Each car occupies 150m2 of urban land and still this is not enough – congestion costs the EU economy €100 billion annually. The convenience that made the car a 20th century icon has been eroded by its popularity.
Germany is in the grips of what may well be the largest cartel case in its industrial history. According to Der Spiegel, a German weekly, Volkswagen and Daimler have turned themselves in to the German and EU competition authorities. The alleged cartel included themselves BMW, Audi and Porsche, and dates back all the way to the 1990s. The news comes roughly a year after the European Commission fined EU truckmakers a record €2.9 billion for price fixing and collusion on emissions technology.
Choked with toxic fumes, more and more cities across Europe are planning diesel bans. Even the iconic homes of Daimler and BMW, Stuttgart and Munich respectively, are considering the step in light of the high real-world emissions of nitrogen oxides. But German regional and national governments are striking back and partnering with the German car industry against the health of citizens to promote diesel as “clean”.
On 4 April MEPs will have a unique opportunity to cast their vote to secure independent, robust checks on vehicles by voting for a European Vehicle Surveillance Agency. As the European Parliament's Dieselgate inquiry committee (EMIS) has so clearly articulated, “Member states have not been up to the task in implementing EU legislation on vehicles and establishing appropriate market surveillance.”
Last week European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker presented his plan for the future of Europe. Or, more accurately, he presented different scenarios for what that future could look like. It would be easy to dismiss this as another round of Brussels navel gazing but the truth is this debate matters. Especially to environmentalists.