EU to outline vision to restart stalled car industry

Tue Jun 5, 2012 12:53pm EDT

* European Investment Bank funding for research

* Draft report says EU 2020 car, van CO2 standards feasible

* Status quo has to change, capacity has to be adapted

By Barbara Lewis and Francesco Guarascio

BRUSSELS, June 5 (Reuters) - Europe's industry chief on Wednesday is expected to announce plans to galvanise the region's struggling car industry, focused on innovation, low carbon emissions and using trade negotiations to ward off competition from emerging markets, EU sources said.

European Industry Commissioner Antonio Tajani could please environmentalists by emphasising smart regulation for a sustainable industry, but is likely to disappoint those in the car industry who have called for more relaxed rules to help them cope with financial downturn.

Such finances as there are will be from the European Investment Bank, the EU sources said, to help with the unprecedented amounts needed for research and innovation, including a shift towards electrification of vehicles.

All major car makers except Volkswagen lost money in Europe last year. Withering sales mean the industry, which directly and indirectly provides a total of more than 12 million jobs, has at least 20 percent more factories than needed, according to analysts and industry executives.

Competition from emerging nations is aggressive. Since an EU Free Trade Agreement with South Korea began to take effect in July 2011, 150,000 extra South Korean cars have taken to Europe's roads.

Tajani is not expected to ask for a renegotiation of the South Korea deal, but he is looking for a stricter regime for the Japanese and Indian car sector.

"We need a less naive trade policy and we do not consider it a good idea to sacrifice the car industry. We consider it's a particularly innovative part of our manufacturing sector and to lose capacity would be to lose competitiveness," one of the EU sources said.

"We favour fair access to markets. We would be very happy to get an agreement with India and Japan."

CARS 21

Tajani will speak on Wednesday at a Brussels meeting of CARS 21, a policy group, which gathers ministers from EU member states, auto executives, EU commissioners, and trade union representatives.

It has drawn up a report on the "competitiveness and sustainable growth" of the car industry over this decade as part of the debate that will feed into the EU legislative process.

The European car-makers' association ACEA and some of its members, including PSA Peugeot Citroen and Fiat , have called for EU-wide measures to tackle overcapacity.

A draft of the CARS 21 report seen by Reuters states only "current capacities will have to be adapted, new production methods devised" as the status quo cannot be maintained.

It also notes the "lasting effects of the crisis" are likely to be most lasting in the European Union as the United States took radical steps to restructure its industry.

"In the EU, the remaining overcapacity is likely to hamper competitiveness of the industry in several member states."

Media reports have said the EU would soften its stance on car emissions to shield car-makers from rising costs.

EU sources said this was not the case and the CARS 21 report seen by Reuters says EU 2020 carbon standards for cars and vans are "technically feasible".

In 2009, the EU adopted rules that require car-makers to cut average car emissions to 130 grams of CO2 per kilometre (g/km) by 2015.

Car-makers are on course to meet that, and the bloc has a non-binding target of moving to 95g/km by 2020.

That has been surpassed by the United States and China and Japan are catching up fast, while debate has begun in Europe on whether to make the 95 g/km target legally binding, with Commission proposals expected later this year.

The industry is divided. Some have said new binding carbon standards would be "extremely challenging". Others say they are achievable and a competitive advantage.

Green campaigners are unanimous that the right kind of regulation is the way forward.

"Strong, smart, effective regulation is a key driver of innovation. It will enable the European motor industry to retain its technological lead, boosting green jobs especially in the car industry's supply chain," said Greg Archer, programme manager for non-governmental organisation Transport & Environment.

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For related Insight story: ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^> (Additional reporting by Charlie Dunmore; editing by Gunna Dickson)

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