To address this weakness, the EU is phasing in a new method to measure emissions to create "a strong incentive for the deployment of low-carbon mobility technologies," according to Brussels. Starting this September, it will begin replacing the outdated and largely discredited NEDC cycle with the more robust Worldwide harmonized Light vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) that better captures real driving behavior.
This, however, complicates things since the post-2021 targets are therefore no longer directly comparable. T&E, for example, argues the Commission should propose a 2025 target of 80g/km based on the more strenuous WLTP guidelines, complemented by an additional real driving test that ensures CO2 emissions are no higher than 10 percent above lab conditions rather than the 40 percent discrepancy of today.
One German official argued that the EU should only impose relative targets on each carmaker rather than an absolute figure given the lack of experience with the new cycle. The problem is none of this is really helping the overarching goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions within the EU.
Although new cars are becoming cleaner each year, the overall carbon footprint from road transport has been growing since 1990, making it the only major sector of the economy heading in the wrong direction. According to the most current data from the European Environmental Agency published last June, road transport increased its CO2 output by 6.6 million metric tons in 2014 compared with 2013.
That was the largest increase of any sector of the EU's economy that year and meant that road transport was responsible for about 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions across the bloc. While part of this is due to the weakness of the NEDC system in measuring on-road emissions, another factor is that EU roads have an existing fleet of 250 million cars, which are estimated to be 9.7 years old on average.
"We would like to see proposals which do not only concentrate on new cars but also on the whole fleet," said VDA President Matthias Wissmann, hoping to shift some of the burden away from manufacturers.
One failed proposal involved including road transport in Europe's cap-and-trade system, effectively forcing drivers to pay for it in the form of higher fuel prices.
Currently, ACEA is calling for incentives to renew the aging car fleet or receive credits for Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) such as truck platooning – it even has a website called reducingCO2together.eu.
Wissmann, who is a former transportation minister from Chancellor Angela Merkel's political party, used to have an easier lobbying job. When the 95g/km target was due to be passed during an EU summit in June 2013, Merkel intervened at the last minute on behalf of Wissmann's automotive members. She pushed for more lenient limits that would protect the sale of large premium sedans and SUVs -- the hallmark of companies such as BMW and Mercedes. Merkel, however, has since signed up to the Paris Agreement and must deliver on her own CO2 commitments, prompting T&E's Greg Archer to say that he doesn't expect any last-second changes to the new emissions regulations for automakers.
"There is no way that Germany can achieve its own targets on transport for 2030 unless there are significant improvements in the efficiency of conventional vehicles," Archer told Automotive News Europe. "The position of Germany is likely going to be much more nuanced than it has been in the past simply because it has its own climate plan."
Making matters worse is the negative backlash against all automakers in the wake of VW Group's cheating on emissions tests. The scandal revealed the industrywide use of legal loopholes to circumvent tailpipe emission limits as soon as vehicles are off the test bench and on the road. As a result, all vehicle emissions -- nitrogen oxide (NOx), fine particulate matter, CO2 -- have come under far greater scrutiny. This could undermine hopes the Commission will strike the more favorable balance between economic and environmental interests that manufacturers would like. Last December may have marked a watershed moment in which consumer advocacy groups notched a victory over the auto industry. EU member states forced an across-the-board cleanup of tailpipe pollutants in September 2018, requiring the retrofit of particle filters to trap soot from cars equipped with gasoline direct injection engines.
In a statement sent by the VDA, German carmakers lashed out at their own government in Berlin for failing to veto the decision, flatly condemned it as "impossible" to implement in the time allowed and warned as many as half a million fewer cars would be built that year as a result.
"The Commission's determination to make car emissions testing increasingly robust is paying off," said EU Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska in an ominous signal to carmakers at the time. "Public health is at stake. We have no time to lose."