ICCT warns Commission on ‘weight v footprint’ debate

An international study has warned the EU that it risks getting an important detail wrong in plans to limit carbon dioxide emissions from new cars. The International Council for Clean Transportation (ICCT) says basing the EU’s emissions standards on the weight of a vehicle will make it much harder and more expensive to achieve targets and instead a vehicle’s ‘footprint’ should be the guiding factor. 

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For its CO2 emission standards, the EU has proposed that the use, or utility, of a car be taken into account – which in effect accepts more lenient standards for larger cars. Up to now, the CO2 emissions law has said the weight of a car defines its utility. The problem with using weight for this purpose is that it reduces the incentive for cars to be made lighter: if the weight of the car goes down, the target becomes more stringent as well. With footprint this would not be the case, and a whole new set of options to make cars lighter and more fuel-efficient would become attractive for car makers.

The ICCT study, Summary of mass reduction impacts on EU cost curves, demonstrates that a footprint-based system can reduce the cost of meeting an emissions target of 95 g/km for the average car by half. 

T&E policy officer William Todts said: ‘The debate has focused very much on which car makers would win if footprint rather than mass were used in the law. This new ICCT study shows that with footprint everybody wins: car makers because it becomes easier to reduce emissions, consumers because fuel-efficient cars will be cheaper, and the planet because much steeper emission cuts would be cost-effective. What are we waiting for?’ 

The ICCT report says the estimated additional cost to achieve 95 g/km for passenger cars by 2020 is less than €1000 per vehicle relative to 2010, and as low as €600 per vehicle under a footprint-based structure. The estimated additional cost of reaching 147 g/km for vans by 2020 is about €500 per vehicle relative to 2010, and as low as €200 per vehicle when vehicle weight reduction is rewarded. The 2020 targets can be achieved by improvements to internal combustion engines and moderate weight reduction, with only a few car makers needing to use hybrid technology to hit the targets. Electric or hydrogen vehicles are not required to meet the 95g target. 

The USA already bases its fuel consumption and C02 standards for cars on their footprint, both to encourage lighter vehicles and to make cars safer as the chances of a pedestrian surviving a collision with a light vehicle are much higher than a heavier vehicle.