Stone Age car lobby exposed

Feature story - 26 May, 2008
Fred and Wilma Flintstone kindly lent their 'vintage' car to some of our activists for the day. We wanted to drive it to the European Parliament and deliver a stone tablet bearing the logos of Volkswagen, BMW and Mercedes alongside the message "Driving climate change". The car industry is well and truly stuck in the stone age, with potentially dire consequences for the climate.

The car industry is still trapped in the "dinosaur dynamic" of building ever-faster and increasingly powerful gas-guzzlers at the expense of the climate.

Our Flintstone's car journey started from the headquarters of the European car lobby group ACEA. This group represents the major European car manufactures and lobbies European politicians to prevent growing carbon dioxide emissions from cars being effectively curbed by regulation. Unfortunately police arrested our car before it could reach the European Parliament. In contrast lobbyists from the ACEA, determined to ensure the special interests of the car industry come before tackling climate change, continue to enjoy unfettered access to European politicians.

Next week, Europe's MEPs are going to be discussing some new proposals to make car manufacturers clean up their act. If the new plans are approved, manufacturers will have to limit the amount of carbon dioxide that comes out of car exhausts. We want MEPs to be left in no doubt that these measures are desperately needed if climate change is to be effectively limited.

The measures are not before time. Our new report "Driving Climate Change" reveals how the car industry, led by the German car companies, has misled and manipulated Europe's policy makers for the past 17 years, to stop them from imposing mandatory limits on emissions. Each time Europe has suggested introducing legislation, car makers have been quick to claim that laws aren't needed because they will take sufficient action voluntarily. Of course they've done no such thing.

In fact, the industry has used gains in performance to build heavier and more powerful cars rather than deliver more fuel efficiency. The EU has let them get away with it. Now they realise that the car industry's stone age attitude might mean Europe could miss its carbon emission reduction targets.

The willingness of the EU to roll over in the past has no doubt been helped by some of the underhand lobbying tactics employed by the car industry. Our report details how manufacturers have rewarded political supporters with loaned cars and other perks and explains how Europe's Commissioner with responsibility for enterprise and industry, Verheugen, formed an influential lobby group, CARS 21, which used his access at the very highest levels to lean on policy makers.

This year the EU is pledging to take action. To be effective the legislation must ensure the average new car sold in 2012 emits just 120g of CO2 per km, and for that standard to be strengthened to a limit of 80g p/km by 2020. Even though the EU is currently proposing legislation that doesn't do quite enough the car industry is fighting tooth and nail to make sure it doesn't go through.

The European Parliament must stand firm and resist the car lobby's attempts to run down the EU's first ever fuel economy standard. The new law should also impose penalties on manufacturers who fail to meet the new standards and resist attempts to give special treatment to the makers of heavy cars. If they do, the car industry will finally have met its match.

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

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