EU directives and binding regulations do not get a good press, but at best they can drive forward innovation, reduce costs, and benefit the environment.
For years the car manufacturers maintained a voluntary agreement with the European Commission that aimed to reduce average CO2 emissions from new cars to 120g by 2012. Nothing much happened; the car makers instead made big profits by building 4WD ‘Chelsea tractors’ and the like.
Eventually, at the beginning of 2008, and with MEPs like myself shouting at them, the Commission lost patience and proposed binding legislation. The car makers lobbied intensively to weaken the proposals; “we shall all be ruined,” they claimed, ignoring the reality that the EU single market provides a degree of protection from competition as every car made here or imported here has to meet the same standards. The law that emerged at the end of the year set the target at 130g by 2015.
Guess what? Once the law was in place the manufacturers finally got around to doing what the engineers always said in private that they could do, designing cars that are more fuel efficient so cheaper to drive, and that emit less CO2. Toyota has already met the 2015 target, Fiat and Peugeot Citroen are close. The German manufacturers of big cars are a way off yet but emission levels of their new cars are falling fast each year.
I haven’t forgotten being lambasted in a radio interview by the boss of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders when I claimed that the industry could meet tougher standards. Now the Society has admitted that its members “had overestimated the difficulty of cutting emissions.” Too right!