Vans and light trucks sold in the European Union will have to meet tighter environmental standards within four years, under plans being developed by the European Commission and already strongly criticised by the automotive lobby.

Light commercial vehicles have so far been exempt from the EU emissions standards for passenger cars set late last year, prompting fears that carmakers would circumvent the rules by reclassifying larger models as trucks.

The proposals would set average CO2 emissions from LCVs at 175g/km by mid-2013, compared with slightly above 200g/km for new LCVs today, according to internal Commission documents seen by the Financial Times. A long-term target of 135g/km is also tabled. The proposal is due to be finalised by the Commission by the end of September, when it would go before the European Parliament and member states.

Past efforts to limit vehicle emissions have faced stiff resistance at this stage, in particular from Acea, the Brussels-based European carmakers’ lobby.

Acea’s secretary-general dismissed the plans on Tuesday as “unenforce­able”, saying its members could not meet new standards within such a short period. “We have nothing against reasonable regulation but these proposals will put in danger the competitiveness of the industry,” said Ivan Hodac. “This is an unbelievable thing to suggest during such a deep crisis in the industry.”

More than 2m light commercial vehicles are sold in the EU annually, accounting for about one in eight vehicle sales.

In line with the rest of the industry, sales of vans and minibuses have collapsed. Mr Hodac added: “Today, we just don’t have the money to meet revised standards. And LCVs have a seven to 10-year lead time between design and production, so the 2013 date suggested is completely, totally out of reach.”

He said the proposals would add up to €6,000 ($8,475, £5,140) to the price of each vehicle. “This kind of big increase in what are essentially production tools is not warranted.”

Dudley Curtis at Transport and Environment, a green campaign group, said applying some of the technology developed for cars could ease the transition.

He added that it was important to close the loophole that could allow passenger cars to be classified as trucks.

“In the US, the exemption of SUVs [sport-utility vehicles] from environmental standards in the 1970s and 80s contributed to massive over-representation of these categories of vehicles,” Mr Curtis warned.

Acea’s response to the EU plan echoes its campaign over passenger cars’ CO2 emissions, which was agreed last December after nearly two years of negotiations. Both the emissions cap, at 130g/km, and the implementation date of 2015, were slightly altered in favour of carmakers after its intervention.

Like the cars package, the current rules are likely to face resistance from Italian and German carmakers, which have already overhauled their fleets to meet voluntary standards.

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