EU spending on oil imports has hit EUR1bn a day, according to European lobby group, Transport and Environment (T&E). Oil imports for cars account for around 40% of imports, using around 4.4m barrels every day.

T&E notes that oil imports for cars now amount to EUR140bn a year, more than the value to the economy the entire European car industry creates each year. According to figures from Eurostat, the 'value added' of the European automotive industry, including vans and trucks as well as suppliers, was EUR132bn in 2005.

Germany is the biggest importer of oil for cars (EUR25bn annually), followed by France, Italy and the UK. Denmark is the only EU member state that still exports oil. In 2007, the EU imported 79% of its oil needs.

T&E is critical of European Commission policy on oil prices because it does not take into account oil for transport. It says mandatory fuel efficiency targets would contribute significantly to reducing Europe's oil import bill. Furthermore, by producing more fuel efficient vehicles the automotive industry could increase its value-added.

T&E says that despite this opportunity, the automotive industry is currently watering down European Commission proposals to introduce legislation on CO2 emissions, by talking about 'phasing-in' legislation as a means of delaying its introduction, and trying to get other technologies such as solar-powered sunroofs, to count towards CO2 emissions targets, even though the official testing procedure cannot make a provision for them.

"Including technologies unrelated to engine performance, aerodynamics and weight in the targets currently under discussion is, therefore, a way of cheating the system," wrote T&E.

T&E also noted that the economic benefits of fuel-efficient cars are underestimated. Fuel prices are now more than 50% higher than assumed in the official impact assessment, which means the economic benefits of the policy are also 50% higher than assumed.

Secondly, said T&E, the impact assessment does not take into account that oil imports represent value lost to the EU economy, while low carbon car technology developments represent value added to the EU economy (both oil imports and better car technology are seen as costs). Finally, the impact assessment ignores the fact that lower oil demand in Europe would lead to lower oil prices overall, another considerable economic benefit.