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Emissions Rules In Europe Are About To Get Real And Automakers Might Not Be Ready

Illustration for article titled Emissions Rules In Europe Are About To Get Real And Automakers Might Not Be Ready
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This year is when strict new rules regulating emissions in new cars in Europe begin to take effect, and also when we get to see how automakers will really respond after (sort of) planning for it for years. The early signs seem like it may not go all that well, and the coronavirus pandemic is complicating things.

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Reuters reports that emissions from new cars in Europe have actually risen in the past three years, even while staying under the regulated level, in large part because of the popularity of SUVs. The issue is that emissions for 2020 will have to be about a quarter lower which seems ... unrealistic.

From Reuters:

Average emissions for new cars registered in the EU’s 27 member states plus Britain, Iceland and Norway were 122.4 grams of CO2 per kilometre in 2019, an increase of 1.6g compared with 2018, the EEA said.

This was comfortably below the EU’s target for last year of 130g of CO2 per kilometre, but far off tougher EU targets that take effect this year.

To meet those and avoid paying fines, carmakers would need to slash their emissions by 22% from 2019 levels. The 2020 target caps average CO2 emissions from new cars at 95g CO2/km.

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A big part of the issue, too, is that even in Europe, electric cars still aren’t really a thing outside of Scandinavia. Electric and hybrid cars in the EU only account for less than 4 percent of new car sales last year. And while it seems unlikely that that buying behavior will change overnight, some countries have introduced incentive programs, and electric car sales during the pandemic have been up sharply. It also seems very possible that because of coronavirus, 2020 might be a wash anyway, as cratering new car sales will make it easier to comply with the regulations.

The real question for me is how the emissions regulations will change the performance divisions of the biggest automakers who might be compelled to roll back some of the fast cars to comply, like with whatever might happen at Mercedes-AMG. The rub, of course, is that the performance divisions are very profitable. But sooner or later the automakers will have to make a choice.

News Editor at Jalopnik. 2008 Honda Fit Sport.

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DISCUSSION

So, basically, there’s three ways (all of which can be combined!) I can see things going for the performance cars:

  1. The fines just get tacked onto the MSRP. (Technically, I think this was already done, but the fines get a lot higher now.)
  2. Production is limited to reduce the fleet averages.
  3. Performance is reduced to directly reduce emissions. (Lower power engines, taller gearing, aerodynamics focusing on drag reduction instead of downforce, lower rolling resistance tires instead of higher grip tires, that kind of thing.)

There are a couple other things that can be done to game the system - there’s actually a perverse incentive baked into the European regime that encourages an individual manufacturer making their average weight heavier to raise their allowed average. There is a counter to that, though - the CO2 target is set at the fleet average weight across all manufacturers, so if everyone makes their cars equally heavier, nobody gets a raised CO2 target, and it backfires. (However, what this does mean is that the smallest cars are being discontinued, because they’re a combination of comparatively poor aerodynamics (and therefore worse efficiency than the next class up) and light weight (and therefore a lower CO2 emissions target), the worst case for that particular regime.)