End-of-Life Vehicles Directive “threatens European car industry”

The EU End-of-Life Vehicles (ELV) Directive could seriously affect the competitiveness of the European car industry and lead to further bans on certain metals in other sectors, car makers and metals producers told edie.

“Retroactive legislation creates legal uncertainty, undermines business confidence and might increase costs for consumers, will bring technical bankruptcy for certain companies and jeopardise the European Automotive sector’s competitiveness and prosperity,” the European Automobile Manufacturers Association’s (ACEA) spokesperson, Thierry Proteau, told edie.

The Directive was finalised last week following negotiations between the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers (see related story). Car manufacturers will be expected to meet “all or a significant part of the take-back costs” of end-of-life vehicles.

For vehicles sold from 1 January 20001, car makers will be immediately responsible for the costs of ‘take back’. For vehicles sold prior to 2001, car makers will have to pay for ‘take back’ from 1 January 2007. The Directive, which is expected to come into force at the beginning of next year, would also ban the use of lead, mercury, cadmium and hexavalent chromium in materials and components used in cars, although this has been postponed from 2003.

Car manufacturers have been particularly vocal in their criticism of the Directive as it now stands, but metals producers were also disappointed by the agreement, saying it sets a precedent for future legislation. “We don’t see it as a good outcome,” Dr Andrew Bush, the technical officer for the Lead Development Association International (LDAI) told edie. “Not only was there a lack of assessment or scientific basis for the ban – despite their being required by European law – but it sets a precedent for future legislation such as the Directive on Waste, Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) – the EU’s second priority waste stream. The WEEE Directive appears to be following a similar line to the ELV. It also aims to ban lead and hexavalent chromium. The Commission has also produced a paper on the Construction and Demolition sector which will probably seek similar bans.”

Under the terms of the ELV, car manufacturers will have to meet all or a significant part of the costs of the recycling of cars, at the latest from 1st January 2007, regardless of the date the vehicle has been put on the market and the prescriptions in place at that time. “This,” says Proteau, “implies cars that were built up to 15 years ago. These were built with materials according to legislation in force at the time. Manufacturers were not building cars in accordance with legislation compelling them to recycle.

“We therefore object to retroactivity because it creates a legal uncertainty whereby we are faced with obligations of taking back cars that were not designed for being recycled.”

Proteau does not rule out the possibility of legal action: “The principle of retroactive recycling is legally questionable. We reserve the right to take any set of action which would be available in order to challenge the application of that directive should the economic interest of the automotive industry not be fully taken into account. We are being used as a guinea pig in advance of future legislation which might be applied to other industrial sectors in the community.”

Proteau argues that the Directive, which will require the recycling of between eight and nine million vehicles a year, will have a negative impact on the sector’s competitiveness. “The industry employs 1.1 million people in Europe,” he says. “And if you include all the other affiliated industries such as rubber, glass, steel, marketing etc, in total our industry supports 12 million European jobs.”

Dr Bush also raises the possibility that manufacturers may find it difficult to find substitutes for the banned metals. “A number of applications have no substitutes – so there are a number of technical barriers to the substitution of lead in vehicles and it’s something which the manufacturers will probably find difficult to solve of the next few years.”

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