By Barbara Lewis
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The top speed of vans in the European Union should be electronically limited to 120 km (75 miles) per hour, according to a proposal backed by the European Parliament's environment committee.
The plan is part of a debate on how to cut carbon emissions and improve the fuel efficiency of Europe's vehicles. It would only become law if approved by EU member states.
Under Tuesday's proposal, vehicle makers would have to fit all new vans sold in the European Union with devices to restrict their speed from January 1 next year.
The environment committee members also voted on rules to implement a 147 grams per km (g/km) carbon dioxide emission limit as an average for all EU new vans from 2020 and put forward a maximum range of 105 g/km to 120 g/km from 2025.
German liberal politician Holger Krahmer, who has been leading the debate on vans in the European Parliament, welcomed confirmation of the 147 g/km target, but opposed the speed restriction, saying road traffic rules were a matter for individual member states.
The European Automobile Manufacturer's Association (ACEA) - which represents makers including Daimler, Ford of Europe, General Motors Europe and Renault Group - said the 147 g/km goal was extremely ambitious and could only be achieved with hybrid vehicle technology.
It called, in a statement, for "more effective" use of loopholes called supercredits, which allow manufacturers to carry on making powerful, polluting vehicles if they also produce very low emission vehicles such as electric vans and cars.
The original proposals from the executive European Commission said supercredits could spur innovation, but too generous an allocation would undermine the effectiveness of the law to increase fuel efficiency and decrease emissions.
Environmental campaigners say the 147-gram target for vans is not ambitious enough. They say it can be easily met through measures such as lighter materials and more streamlining and is less ambitious than proposals for cars.
For cars, the parliament has backed rules to enforce a goal of 95 g/km, which campaign group Transport & Environment (T&E) said translated into 118 g/km for vans, taking account their larger size and loads they have to carry.
While criticizing what it saw as a lack of ambition, T&E welcomed to proposal to cap speed, saying vans were the only commercial vehicles that are not yet speed-limited.
It cited consumer surveys in Britain, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands that show a majority of citizens support the idea.
The parliament will now start negotiating a legal text with European ministers and the Commission, the bloc's executive. Ireland, holder of the rotating EU presidency, has said it hopes for a deal on vehicle emissions before the end of June.
(Editing by Anthony Barker)