Brussels is preparing a fresh assault on 4x4 vehicles in the shape of legislation to force through huge cuts in carbon emissions.
The move follows the motor industry's failure to meet a set of voluntary targets and threatens to heap heavy additional costs on car manufacturers and their customers.
The European Commission is to publish proposals this month for a mandatory emissions limit on car manufacturers of 120 grams per kilometre from 2012. At present, less than 5 per cent of cars sold in Britain meet the stringent new threshold and some, such as the top-of the range Toyota Land Cruiser and Porsche Cayenne, produce three times that amount.
Stavros Dimas, the EU's Environment Commissioner, criticised car manufacturers for failing to meet a voluntary set of targets introduced in 1998 and said the new emissions limits would mean them having to invest heavily in more fuel-efficient technologies.
Under the Europe-wide voluntary scheme, manufacturers agreed to reduce average emissions from 185g/km to 140g/km by next year. But the industry has only achieved a 12 per cent cut, bringing the figure down to 162g/km.
Mr Dimas said the Commission intended to publish a consultation document in two weeks time and then table formal legislative proposals later in the year. In addition to urging manufacturers to produce more fuel-efficient cars, he said governments could introduce fiscal incentives to encourage greater take-up of environmentally friendly vehicles such as the Toyota Prius hybrid car and the G-Wiz electric car.
The introduction of the new mandatory emission limit in 2012 would not stop models being sold that produced more than the permitted level of carbon, because the 120g/km figure would be an average one across all the cars an individual manufacturer produced. But it would penalise manufacturers financially and encourage them to produce a greater number of smaller, less fuel-thirsty cars to compensate.
In 2005, only 3.3 per cent of cars sold in Britain emitted less than 120g/km. The latest Porsche Cayenne produces 387g/km, new Range Rovers emit 374g/km and the BMW X5 324g/km. The Prius produces 104g/km.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders criticised the Commission for ignoring the progress that car companies had made and accused national governments and European officials of reneging on their side of the bargain.
He said manufacturers had come up with several low-carbon, fuel-efficient vehicles but these had flopped because governments such as the UK had scrapped subsidies for buyers of green cars and oil companies had failed to make ethanol widely available at their petrol stations.
"We have got to have a more sophisticated approach than simply imposing new tailpipe emissions limits which the industry will struggle to meet, and burdening manufacturers with higher costs," he added.
The Commission's move came as a climate change taskforce set up by the CBI held its first meeting. The taskforce will report to the Government with firm recommendations on how global warming can be tackled and the contribution businesses can make.Reuse content