EU may force car makers to reveal emissions in adverts

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The Independent Online

The European Union is preparing to introduce tough new rules on car advertising, forcing manufacturers to include conspicuous and easily understood information about petrol consumption and emissions.

The new line follows the EU's decision to exert ever-greater control on the way that tobacco, alcohol and food products can be advertised, counterbalancing the claims and sales lines of advertisers with warnings about the health implications of their products.

Details of the proposal to compel car manufacturers to own up to the carbon footprint of their vehicles will be unveiled by the end of the month, after which the politicians and car industry representatives will discuss them for the first time. As well as spelling out the environmental implications of the cars, the draft regulations are said by Der Spiegel magazine to require manufacturers to put a brake on the prose and the images used to imprint the desirability of their latest models. Any reference to sportiness will apparently be frowned on.

The target of the new rules is obviously the gas-guzzler, and as the country that produces the great majority of Europe's luxury cars – including those driven by the chauffeurs of most European Commissioners – the German industry is already up in arms about the restrictions.

As the EU sends its forces of righteousness into new terrain, the advertising men are putting up a fight. Volker Nickel, of the German Advertising Industry Association, complains of "constant new regulations and more and more government control," amounting to "a gigantic re-education programme for consumers and producers."

Magazine and newspaper publishers, which depend on car advertising for as much as 20 per cent of their revenue, are worried that the car companies, threatened with having their images of luxury and sportiness mutilated by the sort of loud warnings that adorn cigarette packets, may seek other ways to promote their products. Bernd Kundrun, the chairman of the German publishing company Gruner + Jahr, fears "dramatic consequences" for print media. Mathias Dopfner, the chief executive of the publishing giant Axel Springer, claimed the new rules would be "a major threat to free competition and journalism".

Environmentalists argue that the car industry has only itself to blame. Way back in 1999, Brussels introduced guidelines on information about the CO2 emissions and petrol consumption of cars, stating that it should be "easily legible and no less pronounced than the main part of the advertising message" and "easily understood, even when read briefly". But these were only guidelines, and the industry abused them heartily.

In a flagrant recent example highlighted by environmental campaigners, the image of a luxury car was splashed across a 23ft-long hoarding – with the consumption and emissions information about it printed in letters one-quarter of an inch high.

So now self-regulation has failed, tough rules are to follow. But they are still being thrashed out in Brussels. The president of the EU Commission, Jose Manuel Barroso, is still fighting a long duel with the car industry over CO2 emissions caps, due to be introduced in 2012, and is said to be chary about starting another war until that one is resolved. So the first guidelines may be relatively mild, but if so that will be only a tactical ploy. Implementation of tough rules will merely be delayed.

Meanwhile, the commissioners will continue to burn down the Continent's roads in their Mercedes, BMWs, Audis and Jaguars. The only exception, appropriately, is the Environmental Commissioner, Stavros Dimas – who ostentatiously putters about in a Japanese hybrid.