Now that 2017 is coming close to an end, it seems to be the right time for a moment of reflection from my side. Looking back at what we, as the European automobile industry, went through in 2017 there is one recurring theme that really defined this year in my view: regaining consumer trust. And there are three clear areas in which progress has been made.
To start with, a final deal was reached here in Brussels earlier this month on the reform of the EU-wide system for approving motor vehicles, the so-called ‘type-approval system’. Clearly, both auto makers and consumers benefit from a strong system which is capable of ensuring that new vehicles meet all relevant safety and environmental standards before they are placed on the EU market.
Although the agreement still requires approval from the European Parliament and member states before being enshrined in law, the proposal is expected to give the legal certainty and clarity that we need. It looks like the deal struck at the beginning of December finds a good balance between the aim of making the whole type-approval system more robust and efficient, and the need to avoid excessive administrative burden.
ACEA has always supported the core objectives of strengthening market surveillance and improving the current system. We believe that a more robust type-approval and surveillance system will enable the automobile industry to restore consumer trust following the stories about our sector that dominated headlines in 2015 and 2016. To that end, the agreed type-approval overhaul now seeks to bring uniform interpretations to the system and increase EU oversight.
Laboratory tests for measuring pollutant and CO2 emissions also play a key role in the process of bringing a new car onto the market, and the type-approval revamp comes just after the introduction of two new tests in September. First of all, there is the new WLTP lab test with much more realistic testing conditions than the previous NEDC test. WLTP makes a big difference for consumers, as it provides a more accurate basis for measuring a vehicle’s fuel consumption and emissions.
An additional test to measure pollutant emissions also came into effect on the first of September. Under the real driving emissions (RDE) test, cars are driven on public roads to ensure that emission levels measured during the laboratory test are confirmed in the real world. RDE also provides more transparency for consumers and citizens because it covers a broad variety of driving situations; one of the reasons why ACEA has fully supported the development of this test from its inception.
The automobile industry has invested heavily to achieve significant reductions in emissions from RDE-compliant Euro 6 vehicles, which are being type approved since last September. As a result, diesel vehicles of the latest generation are effectively delivering very low pollutant emissions on the road. The introduction of these cars and vans, supported by fleet renewal plans, will definitely play a strong role in helping cities to improve air quality.
Indeed, both WLTP and RDE are essential measures to win back the trust of customers in the environmental performance of our vehicles. Moreover, with RDE there is now one common EU-wide test to measure the on-road emissions of vehicles. This should help prevent the confusion caused by the use a multitude of different tests, each with varying and incomparable methods and results, as some local governments and cities have been doing.
In fact, we are convinced that countries and cities facing air quality problems should work together to create a more consistent European approach rather than each going their own way. Because let’s be frank, it would be frustrating if you as a driver had to deal with a different set of air regulations each time you enter another city. And don’t forget about those stickers that you are often required to put on your car. At a certain point, there would be so many stickers on the windscreen that they would simply obstruct your view!
ACEA wants to avoid such a proliferation of different types of urban access restrictions, but at the same time also contribute to improving local air quality in Europe’s cities. Therefore, we are working with various stakeholders to find effective and common solutions at the European level. Earlier this month, for example, we kicked off a dialogue with European cities – united in the Polis network – on urban vehicle access regulations. Despite coming from very different backgrounds, representatives of both the auto industry and cities agreed on the need for more consistency and transparency.
And this is something Europe has to succeed in, as we need to maintain the single market and, most importantly, avoid customer confusion. Compliance with the existing Euro emission standards should be the only criteria for access restrictions. Because it is necessary that measures are based on objective and fair criteria at all times: only through a non-discriminatory approach can we ensure that investments made by consumers are safeguarded.
Of course, 2018 promises to become (yet another) challenging year – with various key pieces of EU legislation coming our way that will have a significant impact on the future of the European automobile industry. As Carlos Tavares, our recently-elected President for 2018, already made clear; ACEA’s top priorities for next year include finding an ambitious but realistic approach to post-2021 CO2 reductions for cars and vans, and safeguarding the competitiveness of our sector. But that’s something for next year. For now, I just want to wish you a relaxing holiday season and all the best for 2018 on behalf of the ACEA team!
Secretary General of ACEA