Adieu Lamborghini, Aston Martin and Ferrari?http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/08/05/business/cars.php
BRUSSELS: As giant European carmakers battle environmentalists and lawmakers over emissions curbs, makers of classic European sports cars like the Aston Martin DB9, Ferrari F430 and Porsche 911 are concerned the new laws will destroy their lifeblood.
Environmentalists say today's supercars, with huge engines pumping out up to three times as much carbon dioxide as the average vehicle, have no place in a world struggling to rein in climate change.
But Lamborghini and its rivals contend that theirs is a rare art that needs protecting, blending classic European design elements with cutting-edge technologies that can help save the planet. They also argue that sports cars usually only leave the garage on the weekend, contributing just 0.3 percent of European Union car emissions.
"As a high-luxury brand we are representing Europe to the world," Lamborghini's chief executive, Stephan Winkelmann, said. "We are a species to protect."
Many European car makers fear that the EU focus on emissions will make them uncompetitive around the world, leading to their eventual demise.
As part of its drive to lead in battling climate change, the European Commission, the EU executive body, has proposed cutting carbon dioxide emissions from new cars to an average of 120 grams per kilometer by 2012 for a car maker's fleet, compared with a current EU average of about 160 grams.
But the EU has come up against the political power of big auto, with its wide range of brands from the tiniest Fiat to the most powerful Porsche.
Sports cars, which typically pump out from 200 to 500 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometer, would be handled differently to avoid damaging their ability to compete in international markets, according to the commission's proposal.
"We want a strong outcome for the environment," said a British diplomat in Brussels who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak publicly. "But we don't want the rules to disproportionately disadvantage small volume and niche manufacturers, many of which are in the U.K."
Manufacturers making less than 10,000 vehicles a year will be able to negotiate individual targets with the EU Commission.
"We don't believe the intention is to make us extinct," said Bradley Yorke-Biggs, director of strategy at Aston Martin of Britain. But the situation for its Italian and German rivals is far less certain because they are divisions of larger auto companies 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 Winkelmann, of Lamborghini. "But you have to understand, it will never meet the 120 grams or 130 grams per kilometer."
Sports car makers are already cutting weight to improve acceleration and reduce fuel consumption and emissions. Lotus of Britain has managed to get carbon dioxide emissions down to 196 grams per kilometer in its Elise S, using a glass-composite body and aluminum chassis.
Although electric sports cars like the U.S.-based Tesla are available, customers might be slow to embrace that technology. "An Aston Martin is a very emotional drive, and how much of the appeal would be lost with an electric engine?" Yorke-Biggs said. "It would take time for our customer base to accept that."
Peter Everingham, secretary of the British Ferrari owners' club, says fellow Ferrari drivers might accept an electric Ferrari eventually as long as it featured the same perfectionist design qualities they have become used to.
"At the same time you're buying into the history, the Formula One team - all that is part of the passion," said Everingham, who drives a 20-year-old Ferrari 328.
While working to reduce emissions as much as possible, sports car makers still need to work out with EU politicians the details of any exemption to the proposed rules. The commission's exemption for niche manufacturers would cover Aston Martin, which hopes to sell 7,500 cars this year, 60 percent of them in the European Union. It could also cover smaller brands like Lotus and Morgan, which still uses wood in its cars.
But it would not help Ferrari or Maserati. The two brands sell less than 5,000 high-powered cars a year in the EU, but they would be excluded on the grounds they are part of the larger Fiat group with sales of around 1.2 million in Western Europe.
"Fiat does not agree with the current proposal, which would discriminate against Ferrari and Maserati," said a spokesman for Fiat Group, Gualberto Ranieri.
The commission argues Fiat could spread the burden of the sports car emissions across all of Fiat's cars - a scenario that Fiat says would add on average about 1 gram per kilometer to every car.
Everingham says that just as the world is changing to focus more on the environment, so sports car drivers are also changing the way they use their cars, driving more on race tracks and less on crowded highways.
Resorts are cropping up in the United States and Spain where enthusiasts can keep their cars, visiting on weekends to put them through their paces.
"They'll thrash them round the track for a couple of days, send them to the repairers, and then they'll head home," Everingham said.