Automakers Scramble to Cut Pollution as EU Poised to Act on Emissions

EU calls for 25% cut in carbon emissions by 2012.

Automakers have stepped up efforts to curb fuel consumption and pollution ahead of an expected call by the EU for a 25% cut in carbon emissions by new cars in 2012. European manufacturers have been pursuing several anti-pollution approaches in order to meet their own goal of limiting carbon dioxide emissions to 140 grams per kilometer next year.

The European Commission, the EU executive arm, on Dec. 19 is to unveil plans calling for carmakers to reduce emissions to an average of 130 grams across their fleet of new passenger cars from 2012. Under the scheme, parts and fuel-makers would shave a further 10 grams off the average with improvements to air-conditioning, tire pressure monitoring and gearboxes and using more biofuels. The combined efforts of car, parts and fuel-makers is supposed to cut average emissions by a quarter, to 120 grams from about 160 currently.

One widely used option is based on an improvement in energy use by diesel and gas engines through a reduction in cubic capacity. In a technique known as "downsizing," engine capacity is geared to light -- rather than maximum -- acceleration.

At French manufacturer PSA Peugeot Citroen enegineers said more attention to reducing engine size was critical to winning the battle against automobile pollution. A spokesman at rival group Renault said "reducing (fuel) consumption is the basic strategy today," although other techniques -- changes in tyre construction to reduce resistance and lightening the overall weight of a vehicles -- have also produced results.

The European Federation for Transportation and Environment has argued that improving engine function must be at the heart of the campaign to slash carbon emissions. Available technology "already allows for the reduction (of emissions) by 25%," said Kerstin Meyer, a Federtaion spokeswoman, adding that the goal of cutting CO2 emissions to 120 grams per kilometer had been "raised about 10 years ago." She also pointed to the "micro hybrid" system, which cuts the engine when the vehicle is stopped and then re-activates it with an electric starter device. Peugeot plans to equip nearly half its European fleet with such an option by around 2011.

Japanse manufacturers Toyota, Honda and Nissan, along with Chevrolet , have also offered customers hybrid vehicles, combining electric and gas powered engines, for the past 10 years. "It's a promising solution," offering the possibility of 20%-30% improvement in fuel consumption, said Patrick Coroller of the French agency for the environment and energy conservation. At Peugeot a specialist maintained that the hybrid option had to be "economically" feasible, targeting powerful luxury vehicles that put out a lot of CO2. "From the moment the economic equation allows for the massive transfer of technology that is going to be developed, we have to be able to go even further toward absolute zero" levels of pollution, insisted the Renault spokesman. "The electric vehicle is the best-performing solution. But progress with electric cars is linked to the development of high-performance batteries, such as the lithium-ion battery."

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2007

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