When ACEA, the European car makers’ trade body, recently admitted that it would miss the self-imposed target of 140gms per kilometre by 2008, the European Commission squared up to impose draconian limits for successive years.
The 140g/km was an industry wide figure but the EC planned to insist on 120gm/k by 2012 for all car makers individually. That would have been impossible for the German premium car builders and Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor saw that threat at once.
She did not hesitate in using her position to swat Stavros Dimas, the EU Environment Commissioner.
As a result, the requirement is expected to be dropped to 130g/km by 2012. An announcement is due today by the EC.
The car makers protest that there has been unpredicted and irreconcilable tension between environmental legislation and road safety legislation within the EU. As cars have been loaded up with mandatory air bags and deformation aids, they have got unexpectedly heavier and put the voluntary CO2 targets out of reach.
The problem was the exacerbated by the huge switch in popular taste to bigger SUVs – often packed with heavy off-road capabilities. In addition, says ACEA, people are spending longer in their cars because of road congestion and are demanding more and more accessories for comfort, communication and entertainment. All that adds still more weight.
The EU is also expected to combine pressure on car makers with instructions to oil companies to measure the performance of their fuels and generate rapid improvements with 'second-generation' bio-fuels. They have two years to set up a benchmark for the measurement system.
President José Manuel Barroso said: 'The EU car industries are at the core of our economies. By positively taking up the climate change challenge, they will preserve and enhance their competitiveness in the long term. This is of crucial importance for consumers and workers alike.'
In another development the commission is to press for mandatory safety measures in new cars, including Electronic Stability Control and seat belt reminders and obligatory daytime running lights.