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Reducing CO2 emissions from passenger cars

Cars are responsible for around 12% of total EU emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2), the main greenhouse gas.

car on line © iStockphoto

European Union legislation sets mandatory emission reduction targets for new cars. This legislation is the cornerstone of the EU's strategy to improve the fuel economy of cars sold on the European market. The law is similar to that covering new vans.

The fleet average to be achieved by all new cars is 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre (g/km) by 2015 – with the target phased in from 2012 - and 95g/km by 2021, phased in from 2020.

The 2015 and 2021 targets represent reductions of 18% and 40% respectively compared with the 2007 fleet average of 158.7g/km.

In terms of fuel consumption, the 2015 target is approximately equivalent to 5.6 litres per 100 km (l/100 km) of petrol or 4.9 l/100 km of diesel. The 2021 target equates to approximately 4.1 l/100 km of petrol or 3.6 l/100 km of diesel.

Key elements of the Cars Regulation are as follows:

Limit value curve

Emission limits are set according to the mass of vehicle, using a limit value curve. The curve is set in such a way that a fleet average of 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre is achieved by 2015 and 95 grams of CO2 per km by 2021. The limit value curve means that heavier cars are allowed higher emissions than lighter cars while preserving the overall fleet average. Only the fleet average is regulated, so manufacturers are still able to make vehicles with emissions above the limit value curve provided these are balanced by vehicles below the curve.

Phasing-in of requirements

The EU fleet average target of 130g/km will be phased in between 2012 and 2015. In 2012, an average of 65% of each manufacturer's newly registered cars must comply with the limit value curve set by the legislation. This will rise to 75% in 2013, 80% in 2014, and 100% from 2015 onwards. A shorter phase-in period will apply to the target of 95g/km: 95% of each manufacturer's new cars will have to comply with the limit value curve in 2020, increasing to 100% in 2021.

Penalty payments for excess emissions

If the average CO2 emissions of a manufacturer's fleet exceed its limit value in any year from 2012, the manufacturer has to pay an excess emissions premium for each car registered. This premium amounts to €5 for the first g/km of exceedance, €15 for the second g/km, €25 for the third g/km, and €95 for each subsequent g/km. From 2019, the cost will be €95 from the first gram of exceedance onwards.


Under the test procedure used for vehicle type approval, certain innovative technologies cannot demonstrate their CO2-reducing effects when being type approved. Manufacturers can be granted emission credits equivalent to a maximum emissions saving of 7g/km per year for their fleet if they equip vehicles with innovative technologies, based on independently verified data. These eco-innovation credits will be maintained for the 2021 target.

Super credits

The cars Regulation gives manufacturers additional incentives to produce vehicles with extremely low emissions (below 50g/km). Each low-emitting car will be counted as 3.5 vehicles in 2012 and 2013, 2.5 in 2014, 1.5 vehicles in 2015 and then 1 vehicle from 2016 to 2019. Super-credits will also apply in the second stage of emission reductions, from 2020 to 2023. Each low-emitting car will be counted as 2 vehicles in 2020, 1.67 in 2021, 1.33 in 2022 and 1 from 2023. For this second step there will be a cap on the scheme’s contribution to the target of 7.5g/km per manufacturer over the three years. This approach will help manufacturers further reduce the average emissions of their new car fleet.

Pools acting jointly

Manufacturers can group together to form a pool which can act jointly in meeting the emissions target. In forming a pool, manufacturers must respect the rules of competition law and the information that they exchange should be limited to average specific emissions of CO2, their specific emissions targets, and their total number of vehicles registered.

Targets for smaller manufacturers

Independent manufacturers which sell between 1000 and 10,000 vehicles per year and which cannot or do not wish to join a pool can propose their own emissions reduction target which is subject to approval by the Commission. The Commission decides on the basis of a set of agreed criteria which include the manufacturer's emissions reduction potential.

Manufacturers selling between 10,000 and 300,000 cars per year can apply for a fixed target of a 25% reduction from their 2007 average emissions for the period 2012 to 2019, and a 45% reduction from the 2007 level as of 2020.

Manufacturers selling less than 1000 new cars per year in the EU, as well as special purpose vehicles, such as vehicles built to accommodate wheelchair access, are excluded from the scope of the legislation.

Monitoring of emissions

The Commission has set out rules on the data required to monitor the CO2 emissions of new cars. Monitoring reports can be found under the Documentation tab above.

Long term- target

In view of the EU's long-term climate goals, the legislation requests the Commission to review the legislation by 2015 and if appropriate make proposals for CO2 emission targets for new cars for the period beyond 2020, including possibly setting a 2025 target.

The Regulation asks the Commission to maintain a clear emissions-reduction trajectory comparable to that achieved up to 2020 and to consider the competitiveness of the car industry and its dependent industries.