German car labelling plans under fire

Germany is poised to approve new carbon labelling rules for cars – a move some environmental groups and non-German vehicle makers say will tilt the playing field in favour of big sport utility vehicles and limousines.

The Bundesrat, the country’s upper house of parliament, is due on Friday to vote on a CO2 labelling bill for passenger vehicles that will take their relative weight into account when ranking them on emissions.

Under the proposed new classifications, the Porsche Cayenne hybrid and Audi Q7 3.0 TDI – both sport utility vehicles with CO2 emissions of about 190 grammes per kilometre – would merit the same “B” label as the Citroen C1, Peugeot 107 and Toyota Aygo, all very small cars with emissions of just over 100g/km.

Italy’s Fiat and France’s two carmakers, PSA Peugeot Citroën and Renault – which see their portfolios of small, low-emission cars as competitive advantages – are unhappy with the proposed changes.

Environmental groups in Germany, which is home to four of the industry’s biggest premium producers – BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen owned Audi and Porsche – said the new rules were drafted to favour domestic automobile companies and will confuse consumers.

The Verkehrsclub Deutschland, a Berlin-based environmental lobby group, has described the proposed labelling regime as “greenwashing in its worst form”.

“The rules that are being voted on were effectively co-written by the car industry”, Gerd Lottsiepen, the group’s transport policy spokesman, told the Financial Times.

The group is proposing that no car emitting more than 130g/km of CO2 be awarded a label higher than a “C”.

Dudley Curtis of Transport & Environment, a Brussels-based lobby group, said: “The result [of the bill] will be consumers deceived into thinking they have taken a green option by driving home a gas-guzzling SUV”.

The rising debate in Germany pits the country’s strong green lobby against the interests of its premium carmakers, which are reporting record overseas sales this year but still sell many of their vehicles at home.

Most European countries have labelling systemsto advise consumers on the relative CO2 levels and fuel efficiency of cars.

France, the UK and many other countries also have progressive vehicle tax regimes that punish or reward car buyers based on the level of a vehicle’s relative CO2.

France’s “bonus-malus” vehicle tax system is one of the strongest in encouraging consumers to buy low-emission cars.

Germany is Europe’s largest car market. Among non-German carmakers, PSA Peugeot Citroën, Renault, and Fiat were – alongside VW’s Skoda marque – the country’s four top-selling brands last year.

The VDIK, a group representing non-German automakers in Germany, is calling for a uniform label for cars to be defined throughout Europe.

Renault said it was against labelling cars relative to their weight and was instead “for an absolute label that would better favour the environment”.

PSA Peugeot Citroën and Fiat both declined to comment on the legislation, referring questions to the European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (Acea), a Brussels-based industry-wide lobby group.

Acea said: “The position of the automobile industry is that we would prefer one harmonised labelling system for the whole of Europe”.

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