The car industry has warned Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and climate chief Frans Timmermans that the coronavirus will disrupt plans to meet EU standards. [Photo: European Commission]
Europe’s largest auto manufacturers have argued that the coronavirus outbreak will limit their ability to comply with EU rules aimed at cleaning up the sector’s carbon footprint.
The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) – which represents the likes of Ford, Honda and Volkswagen – said in a letter addressed to six European Commissioners on Wednesday (25 March) that “we have never experienced anything like this [coronavirus]”.
ACEA and a number of groups linked to the industry warned that a lack of production, development and testing, caused by factory closures and disrupted supply chains, will hurt the sector’s timetable.
“This upsets the plans we had made to prepare ourselves for complying with existing and future EU laws and regulations within the applicable deadlines set in these regulations,” the letter reads.
It adds that “we believe therefore that some adjustment would need to be made to the timing of these laws” but insists that carmakers do not seek to undermine the objectives of the rules, such as tackling climate change.
The letter does not specify which EU benchmarks need to be adjusted but EURACTIV understands that CO2 standards for 2020 and 2030 are top of the sector’s list.
While European carmakers cry for help, environmentalists say public money aimed at helping the automotive industry recover from the COVID-19 crisis must be future-proof and geared towards green technologies.
A fleet-average limit of 95 grammes of CO2 per kilometre for all new vehicles kicks in fully in January 2021 but has already been partly in force since the beginning of this year. Some carmakers like the Peugeot group claim they have started to meet the target in Quarter 1.
Mobility analysts point out that rock-bottom sales figures caused by the virus outbreak will not necessarily affect compliance because the rules are based on average emissions.
In fact, some forecasters say an economic downturn could help carmakers in this regard because motorists tend to choose smaller, compact cars – where there is more choice of electric vehicles – when times are financially tough.
Julia Poliscanova, a clean vehicles expert at NGO Transport & Environment, said that the type of car sold is paramount and that any post-virus stimulus measures “should be targeted at zero-emissions cars”.
VW, the world’s largest marque, has shuttered much of its European production because of the outbreak’s impact on business but still plans to debut two new all-electric cars – the ID:3 and ID:4 – later this year.
The EU’s 2030 legislation is more of a concern for carmakers as the Commission had already suggested an early review of the rules next year under its Green Deal, rather than the previously planned 2023 stocktake.
Stricter air pollutant standards for combustion engines will also be assessed and the EU executive aims to have enough rules in place in 2025 “to ensure a clear pathway towards zero-emission mobility”, according to a high-ranking official.