Car industry's green claims a fairy tale

Feature story - January 17, 2008
It seems you can't turn anywhere at a motor show these days without numerous manufacturers green claims competing for attention. But take a peek under the green hood and the industry has a huge, dirty, lobbying engine still stuck in reverse.

Greenpeace activists displayed banners depicting car manufacturers as the wooden puppet Pinocchio.

To highlight how many of these green claims are just PR we unfurled a banner of Pinocchio in front of the European car show in Brussels. "Just as Pinocchio couldn't be a real boy till he stopped telling lies, the car makers will never be green until they stop showing off a green image at car shows while filling the roads with ever heavier and more powerful gas guzzlers," said Helen Perivier, Greenpeace International campaigner.

Desperate to protect their market for heavier and more powerful cars, manufacturers last month succeeded in weakening an European Union (EU) proposal to set mandatory carbon dioxide emissions standards for their fleets sold in Europe and push for further concessions.

What the car industry appears to fear most is exactly what we need to tackle cars contribution to global warming - tough, legally binding regulation.

Back in 1996, when first threatened by European fuel efficiency regulations, manufacturers promised they could make their cars more efficient themselves. The much abused "please no rules, we promise to be good" approach that is perfect for companies looking to continue business as usual but almost always useless for protecting the environment.

Sure enough, after the eight years car manufacturers had to comply with previous voluntary targets the majority had failed miserably to meet them. Then the EU Commission proposed to get tough again in 2006 with new strict legally binding rules.

Rather then admit that tough rules were needed for the good of the planet the car industry ramped up it formidable, multi-million dollar lobby machine. European car manufactures (supported by US car firms, like General Motors and Ford) have lobbied successfully to weaken the proposed regulations.

Profits over Planet

The car industry is desperate to protect one of its most profitable sectors - big heavy cars, often aimed at the top end of the market. So far they have succeeded in weakening the EU proposal to set mandatory carbon dioxide emissions standards for their fleets sold in Europe and push for further concessions.

Despite the fact that technologies exist to make cars more efficient, the car makers continue to put profit well ahead their responsibility to confront climate change when it really matters.

If the EU rules are to have any teeth to effectively control carbon dioxide emissions they must be strengthened to including a 120g CO2/km standard as a fleet average for 2012; and a longer-term target of 80g CO2/km by 2020; base emission standards on a car's size and not its weight; and set effective penalties to ensure car manufacturers respect the new standards.

If the final law doesn't have teeth, no amount of green marketing will be able to hide that fact that it was car makers who drove a massively heavy and expensive wrecking ball through the EU's good intentions.

Take action

Please write to the Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, today asking her to support strong emissions standards.

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