Commission yields to European carmakers with weak car CO2 proposal

A long-awaited proposal to decarbonise EU cars and vans was met with disappointment last month – except among European carmakers who could barely conceal their satisfaction at an early Christmas present. The European Commission was roundly criticised for presenting a zero-emissions vehicle target with no penalty for non-compliance and an unambitious set of CO2 reduction targets.

A target for zero-emission vehicles of 30% of new sales in 2030 was welcomed, but the Commission failed to propose penalties for missing the goal – rendering it largely ineffective. Controversially, these rules were weakened at the last minute following a call between the office of Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and Matthias Wissmann, head of the VDA German car lobby association.

The draft law also requires CO2 emissions from new cars to fall by 30% between 2021 and 2030; with an intermediate target of 15% for 2025. T&E said this covers less than a third of the road transport emission cuts that are needed by 2030. As a result, EU countries will have to resort to much more difficult measures such as restricting traffic, banning combustion cars or very steep fuel tax increases to meet their Effort Sharing goals.

Reacting for T&E, Greg Archer, clean vehicles director, said: ‘The Commission has gifted the car industry an ineffective regulation after they came calling. Removing the penalty for failing to meet zero-emission vehicle targets is an own goal. It amounts to handing the global leadership on electric cars to China, which will be delighted to export their models to Europe, jeopardising jobs in Europe’s auto industry.’

Half-hearted pleas by carmakers for more time to achieve the targets were seen by commentators as offering political cover to the Commission for an industry-friendly proposal. Most German carmakers expect up to one-quarter of their sales in 2025 to be EVs – leading to a ‘reward’ under the proposal in the form of a lower CO2 target – yet their lobby group, the VDA, incredibly argued that achieving the interim 2025 CO2 target was ‘more than questionable’.

The proposal also has provisions to better monitor real-world fuel consumption but fails to include an effective enforcement system for emissions cuts to be delivered on the road instead of through flawed laboratory tests. Less than half (40%) of the CO2 cuts measured in official figures have actually been delivered on the road since the current regulation was adopted in 2009, according to data published by the ICCT and analysis by T&E.

The European Council and Parliament will now consider the proposal and propose their own changes before a final compromise is struck in early 2019. The Parliament has previously supported a 18-28% cut by 2025. Nine EU countries have written to the Commission supporting a cut of 40% by 2030.

Greg Archer concluded: ‘The car industry may be leading at half-time but the game isn’t over. It is now down to member states and Parliament to make changes to the proposal in order to put Europe on a trajectory to clean up cars and vans and make its auto industry globally competitive. Regrettably, the Commission has failed to do either or learn from past mistakes.’

Meanwhile, negotiators are close to reaching a deal on the post-Dieselgate reform of car approvals and market surveillance. At the third trilogue meeting in late November, the Estonian presidency of the EU promised a potential compromise to the Parliament which includes 20% of tests on vehicles on the road to be earmarked for emissions and regular EU reviews of all type approval authorities. T&E said this is the bare minimum needed for a robust system in the absence of a strong EU enforcement agency. An online database with key vehicle and testing information as well as independent observers on the type approval forum are also part of the deal.

Before the compromise is officially confirmed at the last trilogue meeting on 7 December, member states have to approve it in their meeting the day before. Germany, Italy, Spain and Poland are believed to still be reluctant to agree to effective EU oversight, such as regular reviews, making an agreement on 6 December difficult. T&E said the next few weeks will show whether or not governments across Europe have learned lessons from industry-wide emissions cheating and are ready for regulatory change. The Estonian presidency still hopes to reach an agreement before Christmas.