By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - High oil prices will make driving a car less and less affordable unless the European Union vehicle industry has more stringent emissions limits than those the European Commission is battling to enforce, the body representing European consumers said.
Debate on these limits is intense in the European Parliament, which holds the next of a series of committee votes on Tuesday on proposals for 2020 vehicle CO2 standards. These would curb greenhouse gas emissions and also cut fuel use.
Ireland, holder of the rotating EU presidency, is seeking a decision on the law before the end of June.
For the consumer and the European Union, keen to limit costly oil imports, the way forward is cars that use as little fuel as possible, the European consumer organization BEUC says.
It urges the European Union to set a CO2 limit for new cars of 70 grams per kilometer (g/km) for 2025 in addition to the 2020 95 g/km goal the Commission has already proposed.
"Spikes in fuel prices cause immediate and financial pain for many consumers. A target for 2025 would therefore make consumers less vulnerable towards significant increases in fuel prices," Monique Goyens, director general of BEUC, said.
Which?, BEUC's British member carried out a survey that found fuel costs were the number one consumer worry following an average increase in prices across the European Union to 1.6 euros ($2.08) from 1 euro per liter for petrol and to 1.5 euros from 93 cents for diesel between 2005 and 2013.
Technology changes to make cars use less fuel are expected to add to the purchase price of a new vehicle, but the Commission and academic research say that would be offset by fuel savings in roughly three years.
While EU debate has stalled on arguments about how to enforce the 2020 95 g/km goal, the United States already has a 2025 target that equates to carbon emissions of around 93 g/km.
Sapped by recession and reduced demand, the European car industry is divided between makers of powerful luxury cars and those already producing lighter, less fuel-thirsty models.
Beyond the auto sector, other interest groups range from smelters, keen for changes to introduce more light-weight aluminum into vehicles, and oil refiners, which have long suffered poor profit margins, and would face reduced demand.
Germany, home to manufacturers of premium cars, such as Daimler and Volkswagen, has led a push for loopholes, known as supercredits, which reward very low emission cars, such as electric vehicles.
Because the 95 g/km target is an average across the EU fleet, the supercredits could be used to offset the continued manufacture of relatively high emission vehicles.
The Commission says supercredits can spur innovation but too many would undermine the aims of lowering emissions and oil use.
Some EU diplomats dispute that the German call for unlimited supercredits significantly weakens the Commission proposals.
Late last week Italy's Environment Minister Corrado Clini gave some support to Germany's position. "Incentives trigger a virtuous circle. We have recently introduced limited incentives for hybrid and electric cars," he told reporters in Brussels. ($1 = 0.7694 euros)
(Additional reporting by Francesco Guarascio. Editing by Jane Merriman)