COVID-19: Carmakers lobby EU to delay CO2 standards as industry breaks

Europe’s car industry body is pushing the European Commission to delay introduction of stricter carbon dioxide standards for new vehicles, claiming the Covid-19 pandemic limits its ability to comply with the rules.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) and three other manufacturing and supply groups wrote in a letter to EU Commissioners on 25 March that “some adjustment to the timing” of existing and future regulations was required in light of a standstill on production, development, testing and certification of new car models.

The EU’s new carbon dioxide emissions performance rules for new vehicles came in to effect on 1 January 2020, and are scheduled to become increasingly stringent over coming decade.

When questioned on the type or length of adjustment to the rules the industry was seeking, an ACEA spokesperson told BusinessGreen that “in this emergency context, it has not yet been possible to undertake a detailed analysis of the implications of this crisis on legislation affecting our industry.” Any change, they added, would “require discussions between industry and policymakers in due course”.

ACEA’s first priority is to protect the health and jobs of the almost 14 million Europeans who work directly or indirectly in the auto industry, which has “essentially come to a halt”, the spokesperson added.

But environmental groups criticised the trade body’s move, arguing it was an attempt to use the coronavirus crisis to water down green standards for new cars. “While the overall economic recovery is crucial, we shouldn’t let some opportunistic carmakers use the crisis to shamelessly roll back the EU climate targets for cars,” said Julia Poliscanova, clean vehicle director at sustainable transport campaign group Transport & Environment.

The new EU rule is aimed at boosting development and uptake of low and zero emission cars, and mandates that 95 per cent of new passenger car sales must be at or below the average target of 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre.

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It comes amid rapidly growing sales of electric vehicles across the UK and Europe in recent years, in contrast to slowing sales of petrol and diesel cars. Auto market firm JATO reported an 80 per cent increase year-on-year of electric vehicle registrations in February 2019, while overall new car sales fell by seven per cent.

Poliscanova said it was “too early to judge the impacts of the coronavirus on the car industry but selling less cars won’t impact compliance with the law”.

“What matters is the type of car you sell,” she explained. “Any incentives to boost demand once normal life resumes should be targeted at zero-emissions cars. This will help keep jobs in Europe, curb pollution and boost the competitiveness of our car industry.”

The push from European carmakers to postpone the long-awaited EU regulation – in the works since 2008 – also comes as US President Donald Trump prepares to nix Obama-era fuel efficiency standards across the pond.

Since 2012, US automakers have had to ensure their cars average about 54 miles for every gallon of fuel (23km per litre), but the White House now intends to relax that benchmark to 40 miles per gallon (17km per litre), according to a draft of the plan seen by The New York TimesThe new federal rule, which would take affect later this year, would reportedly cut the annual boost in vehicle fuel efficiency required of automakers from five per cent to 1.5 per cent.

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President Trump is expected to frame the rule as much-needed assistance for the car sector during a torrid time for the economy as it reels impacts of the coronavirus crisis, according to reports.

But critics argue CO2 weaker standards will exacerbate pollution and climate change, put the US car industry at odds with the rest of the world, and plunge the sector into more uncertainty, pointing out any move to change the rule is likely to be drawn into an ongoing legal fight over vehicle emissions standards between the White House and state governments.

“This new rule leaves the country worse off,” said Ken Kimmell, president of US non-profit the Union of Concerned Scientists. “In the near term, it’s a massive transfer of tens of billions of dollars from drivers to oil companies, as consumers will spend more on gasoline due to less efficient cars. It also cedes American leadership in vehicle manufacturing, putting the automakers at risk in a global market. In the long term, it’s even worse – a deliberate decision to steer us at high speed toward a more dangerous climate.”

US lawmakers have also questioned the timing of the roll-out as the country buckles from the Covid-19 pandemic, with Democratic representative Doris Matsui writing to the Environmental Protection Agency – which has led on drawing up the rule change alongside the US Department of Transportation – to argue that the fight against coronavirus requires “coordination across all levels of government – state, local, and federal”.

“We should not be further overwhelming these parties with new regulations that will require time and attention,” she added.


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