Brussels, Belgium – A new report by the European Federation for Transport and Environment found that the overall performance of the European automotive industry is not enough to meet proposed climate targets for new cars. The report found that BMW AG led the way, improving fuel efficiency last year at four times the average rate of major manufacturers.

Improved fuel efficiency is directly linked to reductions in the CO2 emissions responsible for climate change, the report said.

The average new car sold by BMW in 2007 typically consumed 7.3 per cent less fuel than in the previous year, with a corresponding cut in average CO2 emissions from 184 g/km in 2006 to 170 g/km in 2007. The average improvement for all cars sold in the European Union (EU) was just 1.7 per cent. This is more than last year’s all-time low of 0.7 per cent, but not enough to meet climate targets.

“With the threat of legislation looming, BMW has shown that even premium carmakers can seriously reduce CO2,” said Jos Dings, director of Transport and Environment. “But the slow response of most carmakers shows that the EU needs to keep up the pressure with challenging, long-term CO2 targets.”

In December 2007, the European Commission proposed that, on average, new cars should emit no more than 130g CO2/km by 2012. But according to the planned law, each company would receive its own target based on the average weight of its vehicles in that year, with premium carmakers getting easier targets. Despite this, German carmakers including BMW have been lobbying against the targets, arguing that they should be phased in over several years. In effect, this would mean that the target would initially only apply to the cleanest segment of the fleet. “German carmakers want CO2 targets to only apply to the cleanest cars in the early years,” Dings said. “It’s the equivalent of demanding that a smoking ban should only apply to non-smokers.”

The report found that German carmakers now appear to be closing the gap on French and Italian companies, in contrast to last year, when their emissions actually increased on average. Other companies that made notable improvements in CO2 reductions include Hyundai Motor, at a 3.9 per cent reduction, and Daimler AG, at a 3.5 per cent reduction. However, more than half of Daimler’s improvement is a result of the sale of its Chrysler division.

Industry lobbyists are also arguing for flexible fuel cars to be considered as low-CO2 models, regardless of their actual emissions. Transport and Environment said that that would be a mistake, as the environmental impact of biofuels is currently uncertain, and there is no guarantee that drivers would use biofuel instead of petroleum in their vehicles.

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