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EU sports car makers hit green block

As Europe’s giant car makers do battle with environmentalists and lawmakers over emissions curbs, makers of classic European sports cars like the Aston Martin DB9, Ferrari F430 and Porsche 911 are struggling to be heard.

Environmentalists say today’s supercars, with huge engines pumping out up to three times as much carbon dioxide (CO2) as the average vehicle, have no place in a world struggling to rein in climate change. But Lamborghini and its rivals argue that theirs is a rare art that needs protecting, blending timeless European design elements with cutting-edge technologies that themselves can help save the planet.

At the same time, sports cars usually only leave the garage at the weekend, contributing just 0.3% of European Union car emissions. “As a high-luxury brand we are representing Europe to the world,” Lamborghini CEO Stephan Winkelmann said. “We are a species to protect.”

Many European car makers fear that the EU’s focus on emissions will make them uncompetitive around the world, leading to their eventual demise. As part of its drive to lead the world in battling climate change, the EU’s executive has proposed cutting carbon dioxide emissions from new cars to an average of 120 grams per km by 2012, compared with a current EU average of around 160 grams. But the EU has come up against the political muscle of big auto, with its wide range of marques from the tiniest Fiat to the most powerful Porsche.

Sports cars, which usually pump out anywhere between 200 and 500 grams of CO2 a km, will be handled differently to avoid damaging their ability to compete in international markets. “We want a strong outcome for the environment ... but we don’t want the rules to disproportionately disadvantage small volume and niche manufacturers, many of which are in the UK,” said a British diplomat in Brussels.

Niche manufacturers making less than 10,000 vehicles a year will be able to negotiate individual targets with the EU executive, including Britain’s Aston Martin, which supplies mythical secret agent James Bond with his DBS coupe. “We don’t believe the intention is to make us extinct,” said Bradley Yorke-Biggs, director of strategy at Aston Martin. But the situation for its Italian and German rivals is far less certain as they are divisions of larger auto groups and cannot argue their own targets. “We are committed to reduce CO2 emissions heavily in the next years so we are doing whatever is possible without destroying the DNA of the brand to bring them down to a much better level than today,” said Lamborghini’s Winkelmann. “But you have to understand, it will never meet the 120 g or 130 g per km.”

Sports car makers are already cutting weight to improve acceleration and reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Britain’s Lotus has managed to get carbon dioxide emissions down to 196 grams per km in its Elise S, using a glass-composite body and aluminium chassis. While working to reduce emissions as much as possible, sports car makers still need to cut a deal with EU politicians. The European’s Commission’s exemption for niche manufacturers would cover Aston Martin. It could also cover smaller marques like Britain’s Lotus and Morgan, which still uses wood in its cars. (Reuters)