Environment Forum

from Raw Japan:

Mercedes? No thanks, I’ll take a hybrid

VOLKSWAGEN-LAW/“I hope the next three months will be better for you than the last three," Czech ambassador Jaromir Novotny told a gathering of Japanese car importers last month.

The way things are going, he'll be hoping against hope.

In April, Japan introduced an “eco-car” tax incentive that has left all foreign car brands such as Volkswagen, Mercedes-Benz and BMW, neatly outside the fence of eligibility.

It’s the last thing they need in a market that’s already full of quirks that make life difficult for non-Japanese car brands: the existence of a huge and unique 660cc microcar segment, convoluted recycling laws and stringent regulations against what type of materials can be used in fuel tanks, to name just a few.

No one is complaining about incentivising low-emission cars. But what rankles outsiders is that the perks are based on an outdated fuel economy testing method that critics say is a poor reflection of real-life driving.

“It’s so far from reality that we never bothered to tune our cars to get good readings under this method,” an executive at a European carmaker told me. “And now they’ve hit us with this eco-car tax and even if we wanted to make the adjustments, it would take us until next year to be ready.”

Obama in fuel efficiency driver’s seat

President Bush is pulling out of the race to set the next round of car fuel efficiency standards before his term in office ends. That means President-to-be Obama will decide how fast Detroit should be pushed toward a car and light-truck standard of at least 35 mpg. That’s the goal set by Congress for 2020, but the president gets to decide how fast to move in the phased implementation.

With Detroit drooping, Bush thinks a little breathing room is needed. Environmentalists, meanwhile, are eager for quick action by Obama. The Transportation Department has until April to finalize the 2011-2015 target.

(Picture: Reuters)

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