Expensive ecological cars hit EU highways

Cars and trucks generate more than a 1/4 of all the carbon dioxide emitted in the EU every year. To address the problem, the European Commission is proposing to limit cars’ carbon dioxide emissions beginning in 2012.

The EC wants all cars sold in Poland, and the rest of the EU, to produce no more than 120 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer.
Today’s average luxury car emits more than twice the carbon dioxide of the proposed standard – about 254 grams per kilometer. An average sports car emits 218 grams. Even small cars, such as the Fiat Panda, exceed the limit at 218 grams per kilometer.

Cleaner-burning engines would yield most of the reduction in carbon dioxide that the EC wants. Smaller reductions could be obtained by improving tires, air conditioning systems and other auto parts, and using more biofuels.

A sizable decrease in carbon dioxide emissions would help fight global warming, said the EU’s commissioner for environment, Stavros Dimas of Greece. He said stricter regulations on emissions would “encourage the car industry to invest in new technologies” that would create jobs.

Companies that produce big cars, such as German makers, would have a harder time decreasing emissions than companies that produce smaller cars, such as French and Italian makers.
But the EC would give makers the choice of teaming up to generate an average emission that would meet the 120-gram requirement.

If a maker of luxury cars teamed up with a producer of smaller cars, the big-model maker’s cars could exceed the emission standard as long as the average emission of the two companies’ cars met the 120-gram requirement. Neither environmentalists nor the car industry likes such an approach, however.

Greenpeace member Franziska Achterberg of Germany said allowing some cars to exceed the 120-gram standard is a cop-out that will limit the reduction in emissions in the EU. “A few days ago, in Bali, the EU roared like a lion” at an international meeting aimed at preventing global warming, she said. “Today it behaves like a lamb, preferring short-term factory profits to the survival of humankind.”

Car manufacturers complain that allowing companies to team up to produce an average emissions rate will reduce industry competitiveness.

The EC wants to put teeth into the emissions-standard regulations by levying stiff fines against makers that fail to comply.

In the first year the regulations take effect, the commission proposes a fine of 20 euro for each gram that a car emits over the 120-grams-per-kilometer limit. The penalty would increase to 35 euro per gram in 2013, 60 per gram in 2014 and 95 per gram in 2015.

Makers that miss the standard by a wide margin could end up paying tens of millions of euro in fines per year. Industry wide, the consequence of failing to meet the standard could cost makers billions of euro over several years.

Makers say they are in a no-win situation over the short term. If they fail to meet the standard, they will pay tens of millions of euro in penalties. But meeting the standard will cost them even more – in designing new engines and retooling assembly lines.

They contend that, one way or another, customers will foot the bill. If car makers have to pay penalties, they will recoup their costs with higher car prices. If they meet the emissions standard with redesigned engines and assembly-line retooling, they will have to charge customers more to cover the additional costs. In fact, some makers say the cost of meeting the standard will add anywhere from 1,000 to 4,000 euro to the price of a new car.

However, lower emissions are likely to mean smaller, more fuel-efficient engines, which means customers will save on fuel costs. The savings will amount to about 2,700 euro over the life of a car that meets the 120-gram standard, as compared with today’s average car.

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