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Size matters

July 12, 2011

German legislators have approved a set of new emission labeling rules for cars. But environmental groups in Germany and beyond are not impressed.

Exhaust fumes
Transport accounts for 20 percent of EU CO2 emissionsImage: AP

Germany's upper house of parliament, the Bundesrat, has approved new carbon labeling rules for cars that rate vehicles according to their ratio of weight to carbon dioxide emissions per kilometer.

But the group of state representatives that make up the Bundesrat only approved the new rules under the condition that criteria other than weight be considered for calculating CO2 efficiency within the next three years.

The new scheme uses a combination of colors and letters to display the CO2 efficiency of passenger vehicles to consumers. The most efficient vehicles are labeled "A+" in dark green and the least "G" in dark red - with light green, yellow and amber colors used in between.

Green is not green

Environmental groups argue the new rules were drafted to favor domestic carmakers, including BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen and Porsche.

"The German auto industry has effectively co-written both the rules and the mathematical formula for calculating carbon efficiency on which the labels are based," said Gerd Lottsiepen from the Verkehrsclub Deutschland, a Berlin-based environmental group specializing in transport policy issues.

The Bundesrat approved the new carbon labeling rules but with conditionsImage: ap

"German industry has a clear interest to have big and heavy cars appear as green as possible because car manufacturers here, compared to those in France and Italy, build noticeably bigger and heavier cars."

Lottsiepen called the government's new labeling classifications "a sham," claiming, among other things, that the curve used for measuring weight is set "way too steep."

Under the scheme, the Porsche Cayenne, a sport utility vehicle with CO2 emissions of about 190 grams per kilometer, qualifies for the same B (light green) label as the Citroen C3, which emits around 100 g/km, according to Transport & Environment, a Brussels-based environmental group.

Arne Richters, a transportation expert with Transport & Environment, criticized the German auto industry for "conning" customers into believing "their gas-guzzling SUVs are green."

Size matters

Richters said in a statement that the German government needs "to come forward with a new law on labeling to give consumers a much clearer picture of how polluting a car is."

Environmental groups argue that CO2-efficiency parameters based on car size instead of weight would prompt the industry to build lighter, more fuel efficient vehicles.

Porsche SUV
The new labels give Porsche SUVs a 'green' ratingImage: picture-alliance/dpa

The German Association of the Automotive Industry (VDA) maintains that a five or six-person family van uses more fuel than a light city car and that, with the labeling scheme, consumers will be to compare CO2 efficiency more easily among vehicles in the same category.

The association adds that other countries, including China, Japan and South Korea, also use weight as a key parameter in CO2 emission rules for cars.

Many European countries have introduced some form of car carbon labeling, but the European Union has no common set of rules, according to Lottsiepen.

The European Commission, the executive arm of the EU, plans a major review of a decade-old directive that covers the issue of carbon labeling for cars, he said, but no one can say when or what action will be taken.

"Some European countries are surprised that Germany has moved so fast on this front," Lottsiepen told Deutsche Welle. "They worry that Germany may want to influence EU legislation."

Author: John Blau
Editor: Sam Edmonds