BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe formalized new fuel-efficiency targets for vans on Tuesday, which aim to cut fuel bills for small businesses and curb emissions of gases blamed for climate change.
The European Parliament voted to cut carbon dioxide emissions from vans by about 14 percent to an average of 175 grams per kilometer by 2017, signing off a deal that had already been weakened after auto-industry lobbying.
European Union environment ministers had already endorsed the deal in December.
The targets were barely contested by auto-making nations, given rapid recent gains in efficiency by van-makers -- 15 percent by Renault's Master van and 13 percent by Mercedes' new Sprinter van.
The move plugs a gap left when Europe agreed on some of the world's most ambitious efficiency targets for cars in 2008, forcing Asian manufacturers to follow suit in what many see as a global technological revolution.
Berlin initially resisted the measures for vans, forcing a weakening of the strategy to make it easier for its big automakers, Mercedes and Volkswagen.
The European Commission, which drafts EU laws, had proposed a much tougher target for 2020 of 135 grams per kilometer, but that proved contentious and the target was softened to 147 grams.
Auto industry group ACEA said the goals would be hard to meet.
"Especially the long-term objectives will be challenging," said ACEA secretary general Ivan Hodac. "They will require the market introduction of breakthrough technologies."
But the European Aluminum Association (EAA), said Aluminum could easily be used to reduce vehicle weight by a third and significantly improve fuel savings using existing technology.
"Reducing weight by using Aluminum is one of the easiest and most cost-effective measures to lower emissions from vehicles," said Patrick de Schrynmakers, EAA's secretary general. "It is readily available... It does not compromise on strength and is actually safer for all road users."
Manufacturers that fail to comply will have to pay a fine of 95 euros per vehicle for every gram by which they exceed the target.
British Conservative politician Martin Callanan, who steered the legislation through the European Parliament, said a difficult balance had been struck.
"Our approach should be one of a carrot rather than stick," he said. "We should create incentives for manufacturers to reduce emissions, rather than hammer them with fines for failing to reach unrealistic and arbitrary targets."
But some other members of the European Parliament say that auto-making nations France, Germany and Italy have been too successful in lobbying to weaken the EU fuel standards.
Many carmakers, especially Japanese marques, now look set to achieve their 2015 targets for cars several years early.
"By capitulating to the demands of auto-industry laggards, this legislation will fail to serve the interests of consumers and small businesses, as well falling far short of what is possible and necessary as part of EU efforts to prevent climate change," said German Green group politicians Rebecca Harms.
Editing by Jane Baird