Three-quarters of the 20 major car brands sold in Europe last year have failed to improve fuel efficiency at the rate needed to meet a key EU climate target, new figures from a European Union organisation called Transport and Environment (T&E) claim to show.

T&E bills itself as “Europe’s principal environmental organisation campaigning specifically on transport…[working] to promote an environmentally-sound approach to transport and mobility.”

The Brussels-based group reckons that Volkswagen, Europe’s biggest car brand in terms of sales, has improved fuel efficiency at less than half the rate needed. In contrast, Renault, Europe’s second biggest brand, is on track to meet the target for the average new car sold to emit 140g of carbon dioxide (CO2) per kilometre by 2008. Renault reduced its emissions by twice as much as VW.

The T&E study is claimed to be the first to track the progress of individual car brands in reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions under the terms of a commitment made by the car industry to the EU in 1998-9. The deal also included an agreement not to disclose the performance of individual companies in cutting emissions.

T&E commissioned the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) in the UK to analyse sales data from the period 1997-2005 supplied by RL Polk, the primary data source used by the car industry.

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According to the study, 75% of carmakers are failing to cut emissions fast enough. Nissan is the worst performer in Europe followed by Suzuki, Mazda, Audi, Volvo, BMW and Volkswagen. These seven brands all cut emissions at less than half the rate needed to meet their commitment.

Fiat is the best performer in Europe, followed by Citroen, Renault, Ford and Peugeot. All five are on track to meet or exceed the target by 2008.

The study also found that Toyota, maker of the low-emission Prius hybrid, is failing to improve efficiency across its range at the rate needed. The study concluded that if climate targets are to be met, companies must improve efficiency across their entire range. One or two very efficient models that sell in limited numbers are not enough.

T&E clean cars programme manager Aat Peterse said: “Renault is on track while Volkswagen is way off even though Renault started with higher emissions in 1997. Clearly the target is achievable, but as long as 75% of carmakers go unpunished for their failure, we will never make the necessary progress. Europe must kiss its voluntary targets goodbye and waste no more time in coming up with legally-binding measures to double fuel-efficiency in the next decade.

“Individual carmakers must be held responsible and punished if they fail.”

Sigrid de Vries, director of communications for ACEA – the European Automobile Manufacturers Association – would not comment specifically on the T&E report, saying that it was an individual view the organisation was entitled to.

She stressed, however, that the ACEA commitment was an industry-wide average reduction and that the European Commission had taken into account the complexity and diversity of the industry with its many different types of manufacturer and models when the agreement was reached.

“It’s important to safeguard that diversity and ensure that the European industry can compete globally,” she told just-auto by telephone from Brussells.

“The fact that different brands produce very different cars is not news and there is no aim to change that. The EC thinks that and this voluntary agreement was made with the full support of the EC.”

De Vries said the EC was keen to safeguard the competitiveness of the European motor industry and that was being taken into account while the EU-wide CO2 strategy was currently being looked at.

London-based Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) spokesman John Procter echoed deVries’ view, saying it was an industry-wide commitment.

“The fact is at least one maker has hit the 140g mark showing that the will and drive is there. Manufacturers are taking the commitment seriously.”

T&E noted that, in 1998 the ACEA committed to the European Union to reduce the average CO2 emissions of new cars sold in the (then) 15 EU member states to 140 g/km by 2008, down from 186 g/km in 1995. Similar agreements were signed by the Japanese and Korean manufacturers’ associations the following year (1999). The target year for the JAMA and KAMA associations is 2009.

1997 was the first year manufacturers were obliged to provide CO2 figures based on an official EU test-cycle, following the coming-into-force of EU directive 93/116

Only major car brands, those with sales of over 150,000 cars in 2005, were included in the T&E study.

The voluntary commitment only applies to new vehicles sold. Overall CO2 emissions from all cars and vans on Europe’s roads have risen by 1% per year since 1990 and are responsible for 15% of Europe’s CO2 emissions.

Having signed the voluntary commitment, the EU agreed with the car industry not to publish the performance of individual companies in cutting emissions. An unpublished memo on the monitoring process obtained by T&E contains the wording “the commission’s official reports on the monitoring results will not refer to the individual company’s (sic) achievements”, T&E said.

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