• Car makers shift CO2 responsibility to oil

    Reports from the Commission suggest Europe’s car makers have succeeded in passing part of the responsibility for reducing carbon dioxide emissions for new cars onto oil companies.

    The European automotive federation Acea has been lobbying hard that its members alone should not be responsible for reaching the EU’s aim of reducing the average CO2 emissions from new cars to 120 g/km by 2012. Commission officials seem to be convinced.

    An analysis in the Financial Times earlier this month began: “The European motor industry has been trying for years to wriggle out of a promise to examine ways to improve fuel efficiency, warning that engine advances would add thousands to the cost of a new car. Now it appears to have succeeded in persuading the Commission to shift at least some of the cost of reducing emissions onto the oil industry, a move that could push up fuel prices instead.”

    The agreement reported to have been reached in the Cars-21 high-level working group would oblige oil companies to use more biofuels made from plants. Ordinary cars can run with up to 10% biofuels mixed with oil-based fuels, and biofuels are regarded as carbon-neutral as plants soak up as much CO2 while growing as they emit when being burned in engines.

    The biomass action plan, also released earlier this month, says: “The Commission is examining the scope for the use of alternative fuels, including biofuels, to count towards CO2 reduction targets for light duty vehicles as part of its review of how to move towards the Community objective of average emissions of 120 g/km.”

    T&E policy officer Aat Peterse said: “Apart from being another delaying tactic, there are several aspects of this development we are uncomfortable about. Of course the oil industry should play its part in reducing emissions from road transport, but this should be on top of, not instead of, the 120 g/km target. Also, people are pretending biofuels are some magic solution – they may have a role to play, but if it becomes a big role, there will be too many problems connected with them.”

    If the reported deal is confirmed, the European Parliament could well have an important role to play. Last month MEPs called for mandatory limits for CO2 emissions for the car sector to replace the current voluntary scheme, and for an average limit of 80-100 g/km.

    The call for mandatory requirements is a repeat of past calls, but this is the first time MEPs have called for a specific g/km target, and the 80-100 range is significantly stricter than the existing 120 g/km EU target.

    Over recent months, senior Commission officials have tried to play down the likelihood of a 120 g/km limit before 2012, among them the enterprise commissioner Günter Verheugen. Last month T&E wrote to him, asking how he could justify his claims that 120 g/km by 2012 was “unlikely”.

    Verheugen replied saying he felt it was “unlikely the 120 g/km target would be reached by vehicle technology alone” (our italics). He added: “There is no doubt it is possible to produce cars emitting 120 g/km CO2 emissions or even less. Such cars are already in the market. However, it has still to be assessed whether it is feasible to reach this same level of CO2 emissions through the entire new vehicle fleet without compromising the affordability of cars for consumers and hence the sustainability of the car industry.”

    Peterse comments: “Verheugen has missed the point. It is not about making every car reach 120g/km, that figure is an average for new cars sold. The Commission’s own research said the average cost per car to reach this target would be €577. But we calculate lifetime fuel savings would be around €1000, so it’s feasible and affordable.”

    This news story is taken from the December 2005 edition of T&E Bulletin.