Demanding new rules on van CO2 emissions are being proposed by the European Commission (EC). If implemented, the regulations would cut average output to 175g/km by 2016 and a stringent 135g/km by 2020.
The 2016 limit would be phased in gradually from 2014 onwards using a limit value curve set according to the weight of the vehicle.
Come 2014 manufacturers would have to ensure that 75 per cent of the vehicles they registered in the European Union had average CO2 emissions below the curve. The figure would rise to 80 per cent in 2015 and hit 100 per cent in 2016.
Because regulators would be looking at the fleet average, van makers would not be prevented from producing vehicles with emissions above the curve. They would, however, have to be balanced out by vans whose CO2 output fell below it.
If the average figure were too high, then a guilty manufacturer would be penalised to the tune of up to 120 euros (roughly £120 at today’s exchange rate thanks to Gordon the Moron) per g/km of excess per vehicle.
So what impact would this have on van operators? With CO2 output closely linked to fuel usage, one desirable consequence would be more frugal vehicles. Another would be the increased availability of light commercials that could run on environmentally-friendly low-CO2 fuels as manufacturers strove to bring their fleet averages down and thus avoid fines.
“It would drive the continued development of hybrids, electrics and other alternatives, especially so far as small vans are concerned,” contends Grahame Neagus, head of the specialist commercial vehicle unit at leasing giant Lex Autolease. “Manufacturers would end up with a mixture of ultra-low CO2 vans in their portfolio.”
The motor industry is unhappy about the EC’s proposals, however. While accepting the need to cut CO2 emissions ACEA, the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association, argues that the regulations would be costly at a time when van makers are in dire straits.
ACEA secretary general, Ivan Hodac, contends that the proposals disregard economic reality given that light commercial registrations fell by over one-third across Europe in 2010. “The commercial vehicle industry is still suffering from a continuing credit crunch and a depressed economy,” he states.
The UK’s Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) argues that the EC’s proposed timescale is inadequate given that van producers tend to work on seven-year product development cycles. “The lead times implied by the EC’s proposals are too short to allow the delivery of affordable products to the market that are fit for purpose as business tools,” says a spokesman.
The SMMT is also concerned that legislators may be treating light commercials like big cars so far as CO2 emissions are concerned, ignoring the fact that many of them are produced as chassis cabs to which bodywork is subsequently fitted.
The bodywork’s weight and aerodynamics – or lack of them – would have an effect on the amount of CO2 the vehicle produces. “We could end up in a situation where the chassis manufacturer is held responsible for the impact a body fitted by a third party over whom they have no control has on the chassis’s CO2 emissions,” comments the SMMT.
Neagus doubts that moving to an average 175g/km — the equivalent to 42.8mpg says the SMMT — would in reality not cost light commercial producers a huge amount more. “A 1.0-tonne-payload van typically achieves not far off that figure today so manufacturers are unlikely to find the proposed target difficult to achieve,” he says.
“With the inevitable introduction of emissions-based van taxes, manufacturers will have no choice but to bring their CO2 levels down to competitive levels to ensure that their vans are tax-effective,” says a spokesman for the British Vehicle Rental and Leasing Association. “Fortunately much of the technology required to drive down van emissions can be transferred from the car side of manufacturer activities which means that a lot of the hard work has already been done.”
The 2020 target is tougher, but the motor industry would have the best part of a decade to get there. “Furthermore, there is bound to be pressure from the industry for some slippage so far as levels and dates are concerned,” says the SMMT.
So what’s the Department for Transport’s view? While it supports the idea of regulations to cut van CO2 emissions, it wants environmental ambition balanced against a realistic assessment of what is deliverable and affordable. The EC’s proposals are, after all, exactly that; proposals. As such they will have to win approval from the European parliament and EU member states.
Neagus believes that the light commercial market will change dramatically over the next few years anyway, as light vans the size of Fiat’s Fiorino and Citroën’s Nemo on low-mileage stop/start city centre work switch to battery or hybrid technology. “The landscape will look very different to the one we see today,” he predicts.
Governments around Europe are desperate to introduce CO2 emission levels for light commercials, just as they have for passenger cars. The thought of all that extra tax revenue to waste on yet more hair-brained schemes is just too enticing.