Californian regulators test a VW Golf for emissions last year © Bloomberg

Eight of Europe’s largest carmakers are on course to miss carbon dioxide emissions targets that come into force in 2021, leaving them facing the prospect of billions of euros in fines, a research group has warned.

Only four of the 12 largest companies — Peugeot Citroën, Toyota, Renault-Nissan and Volvo — are on track to hit incoming EU targets, according to PA Consulting group, which advises many of the companies on manufacturing and technology.

Volkswagen, BMW and Fiat Chrysler are furthest behind in electric car development that is required by the rules to offset pollution from other vehicles, the consultancy found.

Focus on car emissions has come to the fore since the VW diesel scandal last year exposed the huge discrepancies between laboratory tests and pollution levels when driving on real roads.

The EU wants to clamp down on both poisonous nitrogen oxide (NOx), emitted by diesel cars, and carbon dioxide (CO2), which is released by all cars.

VW, Europe’s largest carmaker, could face a penalty of €1bn if it breaches the target of 95 grammes of CO2 per km, according to current projections drawn up by PA. The German group is still reeling from the diesel pollution scandal last year, in which it admitted fitting cheating software to 11m vehicles globally to game laboratory tests.

A spokesman for VW said it “remains committed to achieving the regulatory vehicle CO2 targets for Europe” and the company would sell more electric and hybrid cars in the future after “recently announced plans to expand considerably our investment in electric vehicle technology”.

Under the new rules, each carmaker’s individual target for CO2 emissions is set according to the average weight of the vehicles it sells.

A company selling heavier cars, such as BMW or Mercedes-Benz owner Daimler, faces more lenient targets, whereas Peugeot Citroën faces more stringent goals.

Companies can reduce emissions of CO2 by making their vehicles lighter, down-sizing the engines or installing hybrid or electric technology.

Using diesel cars, which emit a fifth less CO2 than petrol equivalents, is no longer the easy option it once was because of stringent NOx rules that also come into force at the same time.

The companies on track to meet their targets are those that are furthest ahead in electric and hybrid vehicles, said Thomas Goettle, automotive expert at PA.

“We know they need electric cars to hit the numbers, otherwise they have no chance,” he said. “There are some that can still make it, and others that are struggling quite a lot.”

PA, which advises many of the companies on manufacturing and technology, forecasts that BMW will receive a fine of €350m and Fiat Chrysler a €600m penalty for falling short of the targets.

Fiat’s results are dragged down by the Chrysler and Jeep brands, which sell larger cars, and by the fact the company has no clear plans for mass electrification of its fleet, the report said, while BMW’s sales of its electric i3 car have disappointed.

While Jaguar Land Rover’s emissions will be in breach of the limits, PA forecasts, the British carmaker faces kinder targets unless it sells more than 300,000 cars into the EU by 2020 — three times its current sales levels.

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