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ICE lobby strikes out against car emissions standards

REnew Economy, 31 May 2018
Australia’s car industry lobby has launched a major new kick-back against car emissions standards being proposed for light vehicles in Australia, underscoring the uphill battle the nation faces in the shift to electric vehicles. The Murdoch papers on Thursday reported dire warnings from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries that an emissions standard being “actively considered” by the Turnbull government would take some of the nation’s highest selling cars out of the market.

And, as usual, the paper did not have to go far to find an LNP member who was equally outraged. In this case, it found Nationals senator John Williams, who vowed to resist any new standard that stopped rural and regional Australians from buying their vehicle of choice.

“This might be all well and good to save the planet in someone’s eyes, but to me an electric vehicle out on a station, on a farm, would be totally useless,” Williams told the Australian.

The Oz report – headlined “Carbon laws ‘to drive top cars off the road’” – is just the latest manifestation of an industry tantrum, first triggered when the Turnbull government made vague noises about joining the rest of the world in trying to rein in vehicle emissions.

As reported here, the introduction of a CO2 light vehicle emissions standard of 105g/km to apply to all new vehicles sold in 2025 was first aired by government in July 2017.

Currently Australia has no standard for light vehicle emissions, and no other incentives to encourage consumers to buy cleaner cars. It stands unique in the western world for its lack of standards on car emissions, or most other emissions for that matter.

An issues paper supported the proposed standard, which according to the government’s own modelling could save consumers $519 per year in fuel costs.

Still, the Turnbull government was immediately forced to mollify a rabid car lobby and some of its own more conservative Coalition party members, after the proposed emissions standard was labeled a “carbon tax on cars.”

This latest bout of industry outrage warns that the emissions standard would hit car makers and consumers, buy removing all but two of the nation’s top selling cars – most of them big utilities and SUVs.

The Australian quotes the CEO of the FCAI, Tony Weber, as saying manufacturers would be unable to meet the target while continuing to sell the cars Australians wanted to buy at prices they were willing to pay.

“If such a scheme was put in place, manufacturers will either have to restrict the supply of vehicles with higher CO2 outputs, or pay fines which ultimately will be borne by consumers,” he said.

And from government, it has prompted a similar response as the last outcry.

Cities minister Paul Fletcher – who heads up the government’s Ministerial Forum on Vehicle Emissions with energy minister Josh Frydenberg – has reportedly assured the policy is yet to be finalised, and that any decision would “place ­savings for Australians front and centre”.

Meanwhile, the latest IEA Global Electric Vehicle Outlook report, freshly published on Wednesday, paints a picture – albeit a rather conservative one – of a world that is shifting to electric vehicles, whether Senator Williams likes it or not.

The IEA sees the number of light electric vehicles on the road globally reaching 125 million by 2030 on business as usual; or 220 million with a bit of added policy ambition – 130 million battery electric and 90 million plug-in hybrids, respectively.

By comparison, Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s latest forecasts see 559 million EVs on the world’s roads by 2040, by which time they would be making up 55 per cent of all new car sales globally, having become cheaper to make than internal combustion engine cars by 2030.

But as both the BNEF and IEA reports note, strong policy support will be a major determining factor of how quickly – and painlessly – the shift to EVs happens.

And strong policy support for electric vehicles requires governments with strong backbones, able to withstand the lobbying of powerful vested interest groups that extend from the factory, to the salesroom floor, to the petrol pump, and beyond.

And right now in Australia, the Turnbull government is being put to the test.

“The government keeps pushing out the deadline for action on emissions standards, begging the question of who is actually writing their policy,” said Senator Janet Rice, Australian Greens transport spokesperson, in comments on Thursday.

“Eighty percent of the world car market already has light vehicle emissions standards. Any weakening of the 105g/km target or delay to the 2025 implementation date as recommended by the government’s own ministerial forum will show that the Turnbull government is completely in the pockets of big business when it comes to energy and transport policy.

“If Ministers Fletcher and Frydenberg cave in to the car manufacturers’ scare campaign, motorists won’t see the over $500 per year in average fuel savings, we’ll see millions of tons of extra pollution pumped into the atmosphere and our reliance on oil imports from overseas will continue to increase,” Rice said.

“Unless the Turnbull government acts fast, Australia will continue to be the global dumping ground for inefficient, polluting gas guzzlers.”

ICE lobby strikes out against car emissions standards