The European Commission put forward today (8 November) an action plan devised with stakeholders to revive Europe's struggling car industry. But environmentalists say it ignores climate change concerns.
The CARS2020 action plan calls for a change in the way the European Investment Bank makes loans to auto parts manufacturers, to facilitate access to credit for SMEs. It also calls for a standard recharging interface for electric vehicles and a streamlining of auto research under the European Green Vehicle Initiative.
In response to the recent fall in demand on European car markets and plant closure announcements, the Commission will convene a meeting later this month of car producers, trade unions and ministers of industry ahead of the next competitiveness council. Overcapacity and investment barriers need to be address, the Commission said, and there is a need for a rethink on state aid measures to the automotive industry.
Antonio Tajani, European commissioner for Industry and Entrepreneurship, said the Commission will “take urgent action to address this sector's current difficulties and restructuring in a co-ordinated way.” This can be done, for instance, by taking better advantage of the increasing number of car sales in emerging markets.
Green transport group T&E blasted the Commission's action plan, saying it suspiciously makes no mention of steps the EU was supposed to take to reduce emissions such as a cap on emissions from lorries. T&E campaigner Greg Archer said claims of a crisis in the automotive industry are being exaggerated to put pressure on the Commission to drop environmental regulation, despite the fact that car production in Europe grew by 5% to nearly 16 million vehicles in 2011, fuelled by increased exports. This puts car sales close to previous levels.
“Without long-term targets, carmakers will reduce investment in developing low carbon vehicles. That will provide an opportunity for their competitors in emerging economies to catch up,” he said. “This is bad for the long-term competitiveness of the automotive industry in Europe; bad for drivers' fuel bills and bad for the environment.”
Automotive industry association ACEA welcomed the action plan, but said greater urgency is needed. "Vehicle sales will not recover to pre-crisis levels in the near to mid future, so the industry needs to adjust for the overcapacity that exists," said ACEA secretary general Ivan Hodac. According to ACEA, the current average overcapacity across Europe is in the range of 25-30%. But this overcapacity is not evenly spread across Europe; some manufacturers are operating at 50-60% of their capacity, whereas others are at 80-90% or even higher. New car registrations are expected to have dropped by over three million between 2007 and 2012.
"Recent events show that the car industry in the EU is undergoing an important process of adaptation and restructuring right now,” said Hodac. He added that the EU should particularly explore ways to improve labour flexibility and support the affected workers and regions. Unfair trade agreements in which the EU auto market is opened to countries which have not returned the favour also need to be avoided.
Green MEPs expressed disappointment with the action plan. “It is a major source of regret that the Commission has not used this opportunity to propose a CO2 labelling scheme for cars or to outline plans for EU rules to reduce CO2 emissions from trucks,” said German MEP Reinhard Bütikofer. “In this regard, today's communication is behind the 2010 strategy for clean and energy efficient vehicles, which had foreseen legislation on CO2 emissions from trucks.”