• Vans regulation carries fingerprints of strong industry lobbying

    Europe’s first legislation to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new vans has been published by the Commission. Although a significant development, the draft regulation has the fingerprints of fierce lobbying by the automotive industry, and even the EU’s environment commissioner regretted its reduced level of ambition.

    The proposal is for the average new van to emit no more than 175 grams of CO2 per kilometre by 2016. Yet that has been criticised both for being a weakening of the Commission’s initial proposals from 2007 – it suggested 175 g/km should be reached by 2012 and 160g by 2015 – and for being well below what the diesel car sector has achieved in the last two years.

    Leaked reports suggested the Commission was willing to weaken its 2007 suggestion by accepting 175 g/km by mid-2013. But the automotive industry – through the leading van maker countries: France, Italy and Germany – lobbied the Commission for a phased introduction, saying the cost of new technology was still too much in the middle of a global recession.

    As a result, the draft legislation proposes a phased introduction that says the average of 75% of new vans must meet the 175g target by 2014, 80% by 2015 and all by 2016. As the industry can select the lowest-CO2 vans for compliance in 2014 and 2015, the ‘phasing’ is effectively a delay. The EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas said, ‘The level of ambition is not as high as it was initially, but it’s still an important decision.’

    T&E, who had written with Greenpeace to the Commission president José Manuel Barroso asking for the toughest standards if the commitment he made in June to decarbonise the transport sector was to be taken seriously, was critical of the draft regulation. ‘The EU is once again weakening vehicle fuel efficiency standards,’ said T&E policy officer Kerstin Meyer. ‘It would be far better to invest precious financial resources in low-carbon technology than to waste them on importing oil.

    ‘EU governments have spent billions in recent months on subsidies for new vehicles, bailouts for automotive companies and loans of public money for developing low-carbon technology. By lobbying against fuel efficiency standards, the industry is showing it is more than happy to take taxpayers’ money and run.’

    Average emissions from new vans in 2007 were 203 g/km, which means if the average new van meets the 175g target by 2016, it will mean a 14% reduction over nine years. By contrast, the best diesel cars have improved by up to 27% between 2007 and 2009, and with much of the technology for diesel cars being adaptable to vans, environmental NGOs say the standards should have been a lot stricter.

    Further weakenings of the Commission’s original proposals are the postponement of plans to include bigger vans and minibuses, and the fact that a target of 135 g/km to be reached by 2020 will now be subject to review rather than fixed.

    The British transport ministry has launched a colour-coded Used Car Fuel Economy Label, giving buyers of used cars ‘at a glance information’ on running costs, fuel consumption and environmental performance. If enough car dealers participate in the scheme, it could prove influential as experience has shown fuel consumption to be more important to buyers of used cars than buyers of new cars.