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  • Stricter CO2 standards needed or Europe won’t be able to compete

    The Obama administration has finalised new rules to improve fuel economy for American car makers. They are expected to transform US cars and light trucks and lead to the widespread adoption of hybrid vehicles by 2025. The move threatens to leave Europe’s car industry at a competitive disadvantage unless stricter CO2 emissions targets are agreed for 2020 and beyond.


    The new US rules require cars and light trucks to achieve 54.5 miles on a gallon of fuel, with an interim standard of 35 miles by 2016. Currently only hybrids or part-electric can achieve this performance. A report – or ‘thought experiment’ as it calls itself – compiled by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) has estimated the new standard is equivalent to 70g of CO2 per kilometre, possibly rising to 83g once various exemptions, credits and size factors have been taken into account.

    The European Commission has proposed an EU target for 2020 of 95g but has delayed the announcement of post-2020 targets under pressure from industry that wants a decision delayed until after a new test-cycle has been finalised. T&E is advocating a 2020 target of 80g and 60g for 2025.

    While the European automotive industry has lobbied for weaker standards, US automotive companies have generally welcomed the new American standards. ‘It’s more and more a competition issue,’ the author of the ICCT paper Peter Mock told the on-line news agency EurActiv. ‘The US companies have understood that if they want to sell their cars domestically and globally they have to pay attention to fuel economy. Most people still think the US has very bad fuel economy and emissions and the Europeans are much better – that used to be the case, but it is changing.’

    A spokesman for BMW recently accepted it was ‘absolutely true’ that European auto exports would not be able to compete with the US, if the fuel economy gap remained so wide.

    The rush for stricter standards will throw the focus more onto electric vehicles, but a separate ICCT report warns about relying too heavily on electric propulsion without looking at how the electricity is generated. This study estimated that by 2015, a fully electrified Nissan Leaf would emit 20g of CO2 per kilometre in France, where much of the electricity comes from nuclear power, but 114g in Great Britain, where there is a greater reliance on coal. The report also estimated emissions from electric cars charged in very coal-dependent countries such as Poland and Luxembourg would be 135 g/km.

    T&E cars officer Greg Archer said: ‘We need ambitious 2025 standards in the EU to retain Europe’s leadership in supplying fuel-efficient vehicles and to encourage continuing investment in electric and hydrogen vehicles. Calls to weaken and delay proposed 2020 targets provide just the opportunity international competitors want to catch up.’