In the Seat dealership around the corner from my house, the entire window display is taken up by an advert for the Seat Ibiza EcoMotive with the figure ‘99 g/km’ written as tall as a house.
A few weeks ago, an advertising hoarding next to a railway bridge proudly displayed a poster advertising the rather mysterious-sounding ‘Efficient Dynamics’.
These strange words are popping up all over the place: Airdream, Blue Lion, BlueMotion, Eco2, Ecomotive, ECOnetic, Efficient Dynamics … the list of ‘eco’ car brands launched in the last 18 months reads rather like a dictionary. The industry newspaper Automotive News Europe didn’t talk about CO2 two years ago – now it is on the cover almost every week. Could it be that car makers are finally starting to take emissions reductions seriously?
The German industry certainly thinks so. According to figures published this month by the industry association VDA, first-quarter sales figures from 2008 showed German brands sold in Germany emitted 3.5% less carbon dioxide than a year ago. Quite a change, considering T&E’s report last November that found German car emissions actually increased in 2006 in Europe as a whole.
The announcements keep coming. This month The Economist reported that Fiat will launch an engine next year capable of just 69 g/km. And Citroën has announced a version of its C2 small car that will achieve 90 g/km. Impressive stuff.
It does appear that the genuine threat of regulation, rather than the impotent voluntary agreement that has been in place since 1998, has focused minds.
One thing is for sure, all this technology has been around for a while. Thomas Weber, head of Research & Development at DaimlerChrysler, told Automotive News Europe last year that Mercedes could have launched a fuel-saving stop-start version of its second-generation A class when it launched the car three years ago. ‘We had it ready behind the curtains, but no one asked for it – so we held it back,’ he was quoted as saying. ‘Now everything has changed.’
The fact is, the European target of 120 g/km fleet-average has been official EU policy since 1996. Clearly research departments have not been sitting on their hands since then. But the lesson for Europe is that only regulation – or the serious threat of it – will make the industry actually put this technology into the hands of car buyers. In other words, now is not the time to back down or weaken the target first put on the table more than a decade ago.