Rhein on Energy and Climate

The biggest European automobile manufacturer has announced its intention to introduce a new extra high fuel-efficiency model as of this autumn. Its consumption would be 3.3 litre/100 km, or the equivalent of 87 grammes C02 emissions per km.

This news has to be on the background of aconfirms swing in the automobile market away from gas-guzzlers to economic models. and all producers are undertaking frantic efforts to improve fuel-efficiency of conventional cars with combustion engines.

But we must above all put these developments in the context of the climate policy package agreed by heads of government last December, after tremendous tough resistance from all European manufacturers, but especially the German ones, against stricter emission standards.

Many will remember that the final compromise was heavily biased in favour of the car manufacturers industry:

  • Mandatory emission ceiling of Average emission of 130 g C02 per km as of 2015, compared with a Commission proposal of 120 grammes as of 2013.

  • Target of 95 g for 2020.

In fact, many small cars already reach emission values of less than 130 already today , which shows that all small cars are able to do the same, say by 2012, without revolutionary changes of engine technology. With an appropriate system of bonus and malus premiums, as applied by France, it would be possible to accelerate the overdue transition towards energy-efficient cars much faster than imposed by the EU regulation, to be formally approved by the EU before the end of April.

The Heads of Government have adopted a deal that was far too lenient for the automobile industry. They have lent their ears too much to the alarm cries from automobile bosses and not enough to competent car engineers knowledgeable about the technical progress still possible.

It is not possible to reinforce the regulation at this stage. But one should not wait until 2020 before introducing stricter efficiency standards, coupled with appropriate incentive and disincentives.

Time is of the essence. It will take until 2030 before the average emission levels of automobiles will reach 130 grammes without additional action to be taken before 2020.

Brussels 07.03.09 Eberhard Rhein

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