Frantic lobbying by German carmakers has delayed a proposal for stricter emission limits on cars that was scheduled for agreement by European commissioners next week. The German government is weighing in to press the Commission for changes to a proposal that would add millions of euros to the costs of Italian and French carmakers.
The German companies BMW and Daimler, which produce, on average, larger, heavier cars, are pushing for a method of distributing the permitted emissions across the manufacturers' fleets that would favour heavier cars, at the expense of Fiat and Renault, which make smaller cars.
The proposal has prompted bitter exchanges between car companies at meetings of the European carmakers' industry association ACEA, which has been unable to agree a common position on the proposal.
It is the Commission's climate-action department that has drafted the proposal to revise emissions rules passed in 2008, but the offices of Günther Oettinger, the commissioner for energy, and of José Manuel Barroso, the Commission president, have become involved. Oettinger is Germany's European commissioner, and the head of Barroso's office, Johannes Laitenberger, is German.
The German car industry has suggested that the changes being prepared by the Commission amount to an attempt to support Italian and French carmakers that are suffering from excess production capacity.
The counter-accusation from ANFIA, the Italian carmakers' association, is that if the Commission's final proposal changes the calculation method to benefit heavy vehicles and hurt lighter vehicles, it would be a gift to the German carmakers.
“We would see this as an imbalanced proposal tending to favour just one country,” said ANFIA president Roberto Vavassori. “We shouldn't create too many distortions.”
The emissions limit applies to the average of car fleets rather than individual vehicles, and it is the method of calculating the average that is so controversial. In 2008, when the 2015 limit of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre (g/km) was agreed, a Franco-German compromise was worked out that reduced the burden on heavier cars. The German carmakers fear the Commission's new proposal will betray that compromise. The 2008 law includes a curve plotting the CO2 limits against the weight of the car.
The Commission's draft, which has yet to be approved, would introduce an average limit of 95 g/km for car fleets after 2020, a figure envisaged by the 2008 legislation but subject to confirmation by the Commission. The lower limit would necessarily change the curve for determining average emissions. But the German carmakers object to the Commission's plan to move the ‘base year' for calculations from 2006 to 2009.
BMW introduced several innovations in its model range between 2007 and 2009 that lowered emissions in its heaviest vehicles. It argues that by moving the base year to 2009 it is being punished for having taken CO2 reduction measures earlier.
The German government has been circulating an alternative proposal with a different change to the slope. Environmental campaign group Greenpeace has made a comparison of the Commission draft with the German proposal. It found that under the Commission's draft, Fiat and Renault would have to make fairly small reductions in emissions between 2010 and 2020 while BMW would have to make a greater reduction.
Under the German government proposal, BMW would have to make the smallest percentage reduction in emissions over these ten years – 30% versus 32% under the Commission draft. Renault's reduction requirement would be raised from 32% to 33%, while Fiat's would be raised from 30% to 33%*.
“These are the companies that claim to be environmental leaders,” Franziska Achterberg of Greenpeace said. “Now they are asking the French and Italian carmakers to do the reductions in their place, instead of doing their fair share to move us on.”
*On 28 June Greenpeace revised its figures. They found that BMW's reduction requirement would be reduced by 30% versus 32%, not 24% versus 32% as originally calculated. Renault's reduction requirement would be raised from 32% to 33%, not 32% to 38%. The online version of the article has been amended.