TURIN The European Commission may put in new checks to make sure automakers can achieve a voluntary agreement to sharply reduce CO2 tailpipe emissions by 2008.
Following criticism of the deal from some environmental groups, EC officials want to monitor the carmakers' progress more closely. But they also want pursue other ways of lowering CO2 emissions.
The voluntary agreement calls for members of ACEA, the European carmakers association, to cut the average CO2 output across their fleets to 140 grams-per-kilometer a reduction of around 25 percent from 1995 levels. The target represents average fuel consumption of about 5.6 liters per 100km.
The deal was signed in October, 1998 after years of negotiations and threats of CO2 legislation from European regulators. The Japanese and Korean automaker associations later agreed to the terms.
Under the agreement, the fleet consumption of all ACEA members representing about 85 percent of all European vehicle sales would be averaged together.
Robert Salvarani, head of the environmental unit at the EC's directorate general for transport and environment, said the EC 'has placed big expectations on the 25 percent reduction in 2008.'
After initial enthusiasm about the agreement, Salvarani said 'more recently, many organizations have let us know that this will lead to difficulties and that the number of private and heavier cars on the road will increase by 2008.
'The commission is wondering whether we should do something to guide these voluntary agreements toward achieving objectives and whether we can hope for a positive result,' he said. 'We would like to have close contact with the car manufacturers to come up with hard evidence on how they are implementing their strategies.'
Paolo Cantarella, Fiat SpA chief executive and current ACEA president, said automakers are doing their share to reduce CO2 levels. He said they now need help from other industries and through non-technical, governmental measures.
'Why has so much of the focus been on new car improvements?' asked Cantarella at a CO2 conference here last month. 'These take time to have an impact being dependent on fleet renewal rates and consequently only generate gradual reduction in overall car CO2.'
The conference was sponsored by ACEA, the International Organization of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers and the European Conference of Ministers of Transport.
Cantarella said the industry is well on the way to meeting its 2008 target. Since 1995, CO2 emissions in new passenger vehicle fleets have been reduced 6 percent. But automakers say the lack of low-sulfur fuel in Europe makes achieving the CO2 standards more difficult.
Klaus Groeger, an official with the German transport ministry, said Germany plans to increase taxes on gasoline and diesel fuel with a sulfur content of more than 50ppm starting on November 1, 2001. In January 2003, taxes will be increased on fuels with more than 10ppm sulfur.
The European oil industry has argued against EU legislation that would ban the sale of any fuel with a sulfur level of more than 50ppm in 2005. But it lost the battle last year when the European Parliament forced through a clean-fuel law.
A representative of the UK petroleum association said that in the UK most vehicles are already running on 50ppm fuel but that '10ppm levels are virtually impossible.' Groeger said the German government has heard this argument from oil companies but hasn't changed its position.
Industry experts, government representatives and consumer advocates say that focusing on the car is the best way to lower CO2 emissions. But they also proposed ways to cut CO2 through taxes and incentives, management of urban traffic, telematics, more vehicle inspections and consumer awareness programs. 'We have to stop concentrating exclusively on the road sector,' said Salvarani. 'It's not the only contributor.' The biggest stumbling block may be consumers themselves, said David Ward, director general of FIA, the umbrella association for Europe's automobile clubs and their 40 million members. Raising fuel taxes won't work, Ward said.
'The UK has the highest rate of fuel tax ... it has been taken to the level that is politically tolerable,' he said. 'I suspect its influence has been very little.' Neither do national car scrapping schemes work, said Ward.
Ward proposed lowering value-added taxes on cars that meet 2005 EU emissions targets and the 2008 CO2 industry fleet average goal.
Heavy taxes on cars that do not meet EU 2002 emissions levels do not work, said Ward.
'Germany has the most modern fleet in Europe but still 30 percent of the cars on the road do not have three-way catalytic converters.'
But Groeger said: 'Without the pressure of financial incentives we would not yet have a so-called 'three-liter' car on the market.'