Driving ahead on the road to lower car emissions

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Series Details Vol.10, No.16, 6.5.04
Publication Date 06/05/2004
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Date: 06/05/04

The car industry is sticking to its voluntary agreement and should be trusted to keep its promises, writes former world rally champion Ari Vatanen

THE real question is who do you put your money on? A Green environment minister who doesn't like cars or road networks in the first place?

I would put my money on the car industry, not on German Environment Minister Jürgen Trittin.

He was wrong to call for a mandatory measure to replace the existing voluntary agreement.

It's not true that manufacturers are not succeeding. The car industry is subject to millions of people voting every day and carmakers are doing their best to reduce CO2 emissions. What is happening with emissions now is what has already happened with the crash test. Today, safety sells. And low-emission vehicles are selling, too.

This is why there is no need to make the voluntary agreement mandatory. Introducing legislation to regulate this would, moreover, take years.

Still, it is difficult to grasp what these "grammes" actually mean. When you start off at around 300g/km and are aiming for 120g/km, you can reduce your emissions more rapidly at the beginning. But every extra gramme gradually becomes more and more difficult to achieve. In one minute, the average human being breathes out 20g of CO2, so in six minutes each of us emits 120g of CO2. That is normal, because we are part of nature. But a human being in 24 hours equals the CO2 output of a car that would emit 120g/km at 250km per hour.

Some carmakers have hit around 180g/km and European consumers' awareness of such achievements has grown. But green and consumer groups, which are really anti-industry and anti-car groups, are their most vocal critics.

These groups are also against building better roads that are safer. But we must build wider roads and more motorways with separate lanes for lorries. Economic advancement requires mobility and the road network is like the bloodveins of a human being, while other modes of transport, such as the rail network, are the skeleton.

It is true that total emissions from transport are growing - but per unit they are actually getting radically lower.

Hydrogen-powered fuel-cell cars could be part of the solution, but they are not a panacea. In my view, solving all the problems involved in bringing them to market is still far away. At the same time it is amazing how far conventional cars have come.

And the conventional engine won't go away any time soon.

The real problem is the politicians who don't know anything about the economy, because they have never worked in industry before. We are over-regulating Europe. On my last train ride from Brussels to Marseilles, I spent several hours talking to an employee in the buffet car. He told me that he was about to move to London because there were less regulations there. It is alarming because, in Europe, we keep adding more and more red tape.

And who pays for it? The guy who gets up every day at 7am and earns €1,000 a month.

People vote with their feet and their wallets every day.

Our role as politicians should be to pinpoint where the least investments lead to the biggest gains.

But for politically motivated reasons we get bogged down in the detail.

We must create clear priorities and we must believe the collective judgement of millions of people.

  • Finnish Conservative MEP and former world rally champion Ari Vatanen is a member of the European Parliament's regional policy, transport and tourism committee. He lives in southern France and is standing as a French candidate in June's European Parliament elections.

Giving tax incentives to encourage carmakers to make their vehicles more efficient is the way forward, argues Malcolm Harbour

THE voluntary commitment by EU, Japanese and Korean carmakers to steadily improve the emission performance of their new cars is an excellent example of intelligent policymaking.

Rather than a complex, time- consuming, legislative package, we have a clear, transparent agreement with a detailed set of monitoring data to review performance.

Despite some doomsayers, I am confident that the targets will be reached. The trends remain positive, but they still represent a major task for carmakers. Demands for increased safety, more comfort and enhanced equipment are still putting pressure on weight, making the task of improvement more demanding.

But advances in engine design, new generations of multi-speed transmission and use of lighter materials - to name just a few innovations - will keep up progress.

Some people are already calling for a new legislative agreement to move on from the currently voluntary pact. This seems to reflect unwillingness by some legislators - in member states and in national parliaments - to trust an industry to behave in a responsible way.

So, before we start on this unproductive use of legislative time, let's start a full and open debate.

How should we stimulate investment in new, environmentally friendly technologies? How can we encourage consumers to buy lower-emission cars? Will the profits from these smaller, lighter cars generate enough returns to enable carmakers to keep investing? What will a heavy-handed legislative solution mandating lower- emission cars do to the global competitiveness of a key EU industry?

We should learn the lesson from the US, where legislators in the 1970s misguidedly introduced mandatory legislation to force carmakers to reduce their fleet-fuel economy.

Consumers unable to buy large cars turned to trucks and 4x4s instead. These now make up 50% of the US market and transport energy consumption is far higher than it would have been without legislation. We do not want to go down this route in Europe. The last five years have shown that innovation is giving consumers new choices in fuel-

efficient cars that they are keen to buy. The latest generation of diesel engines is a major European technological success, but the Japanese makers are now in the game. Honda now produces a diesel, a lightweight and powerful unit displaying all of their renowned expertise in engine design.

The review of the agreement should, therefore, be set in the broad context of the European market, consumer preferences and the global position of the industry. It must take into account taxation policies, which have a key influence on demand. Arguably, the widespread adoption of CO2- based annual usage and other car-

based taxes would remove any need for a future voluntary agreement. Consumer demand for low CO2 cars would drive investment just as fast - if not faster - than an artificial fleet economy target. Governments also need to address the role of new fuels and ultra-low-

emission cars and decide how to encourage them. A tax moratorium would stimulate investment in fuelling infrastructure and product technology.

So let's resist the calls for intervention and develop our own EU approach. If we do it right, European technology will power the worldwide movement towards greener cars.

  • UK Conservative MEP and former Rover engineer Malcolm Harbour is a member of Parliament's legal affairs committee and a substitute on the industry and energy committee.

MEPs Ari Vatanen and Malcolm Harbour discuss new-vehicle emissions and whether a level of 140 grammes of CO2 per kilometre by 2008 and 120 grammes per kilometre by 2010 should be made mandatory.

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