Carmakers Should Have Seen Europe's CO2 Rules Coming

Auto makers may complain that proposed European CO2 limits are too much too soon, but they should have seen them coming.

Published: 25-Dec-2007

It’s amusing to hear highly profitable German car giant BMW complain that proposed European rules on automotive emissions will “distort the market” in favour of smaller cars. It’s a little like an unruly child complaining that being sent to bed without supper will distort the evening in favour of empty stomachs. Promoting less profligate, more efficient cars is the whole point. In the context of reducing carbon footprint, smaller is almost exactly equal to better.

That the European Commission has settled on a proposed limit is a good thing, irrespective of whether it has picked the right number and the right timetable for enforcement, because it will instigate real change in the car industry. To date, with voluntary targets, the makers have been caught in a dilemma. Few of the factors that predominate in car sales today help manufacturers to cut consumption: buyers tend to choose cars that are sporty, high quality, roomy, safe and cheap to buy. Fuel economy has, until very recently, not been much of an issue. Almost all of the above factors tend to bloat up a vehicle in size and weight, while cheapness acts to deter technological routes to reduced consumption.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that some makers (not BMW, to be fair) have seen their average emissions head upward despite a voluntary accord designed to do the opposite. Some makers have, in effect, chosen to take the money and run. They should not be surprised if they now have consequences to face.

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