The auto industry is not the enemy

Here at The Engineer we’re not ones for the sort of Euro-shock story beloved of some of our colleagues — the ‘ban on bent bananas’ type of thing.

Sometimes, however, you do have to wonder whether Brussels is actually located on another planet — and a very strange one at that — such is the peculiar behaviour of those who shape Europe’s destiny from that pleasant city.

In a bizarre rush of blood to its collective head, the European Parliament indicated last week that it wants to see information on CO2 emissions slapped all over car advertising rather in the manner of a health warning on a packet of cigarettes.

An MEP in favour of the move was quoted as saying that the legislators want the CO2 data to be ‘bold and brassy’, taking up 20 per cent of the advertisement. (Remember, these are the people we actually vote for, not the banana straighteners of the European Commission. It’s their turn to have their say on the issue next).

The call for ‘health warnings’ came as part of a parliamentary debate on emissions caps for new cars. To be fair, the MEPs realised that the 2012 target of achieving emissions of 130 grams per kilometre now favoured by legislators is unrealistic, and recommended a 2015 deadline instead.

But that call for emissions information in advertising is revealing for what it tells us about the mindset in Brussels, where the automotive industry seems to have slipped effortlessly into a select group that can generally be classed as ‘a bad thing.’

Not as bad as the tobacco industry, obviously, (though you might find the odd MEP, and we use the word advisedly, who believes so). But bad all the same, bad enough to warrant some serious interference in the way it promotes its products in a free market.

The fact that the industry in question employs, directly or indirectly, some 12 million of its citizens and contributes untold millions of euros to the tax revenues that pay their wages has not, presumably, completely escaped the attention of the Brussels contingent. Nor will the fact that Europe’s population as a whole, lacking chauffeurs and expense account-funded access to Club Class air tickets, is rather keen on the mobility and independence their cars give them.

Nobody, least of all The Engineer, is arguing that action to get emissions down across Europe and the world is not a top priority. The automotive sector itself has recognised it as an inevitability, and is fully aware that failure to do so is commercial suicide as well as environmentally irresponsible.

Legislate by all means, but turning the debate into a crusade by the paragons of virtue in Brussels against the sinister forces of European motoring just won’t wash.

Andrew Lee, editor