Make / Model Search

News - General News - Emissions

Car-makers circle wagons against FCAI exposé

Report on FCAI emissions lobbying appears to unify rather than divide auto industry

6 Jun 2023

FREEDOM of information requests sought by UK-based not-for-profit think tank InfluenceMap and published as part of an online exposé have taken a swipe at the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), suggesting Australia’s peak automotive body, the oil industry and a number of major car-makers have led a “strategic, coordinated campaign to push back against Australian climate policy”.


However, far from prompting some brands to disassociate from the FCAI over its position on such matters – as has happened with its continental counterpart, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association – GoAuto’s investigation found a circling of the wagons among car-makers willing to provide a response to the InfluenceMap report.


Privately, some automotive industry insiders have expressed frustration at what is seen as something of a handbrake on progressive transport emissions policy but also some of the methods used by InfluenceMap – such as using the FCAI logo and colours in an infographic to make it look like part of an internal document – and inaccuracies over the role of some brands mentioned.


Surprisingly, the Electric Vehicle Council (EVC) declined to comment other than to distance itself from the InfluenceMap report while Greenpeace urged policymakers to take the report’s underlying message seriously and to urgently catch up with other developed nations on transport emissions.


The data-driven report, entitled The FCAI and Australian Climate Policy, summarises what it says is “over 500 pages of data” relating to the FCAI’s voluntary CO2 emissions standard, and embroils 15 of Australia’s largest vehicle importers which it says have “repeatedly lobbied policymakers to lock in climate rules that are significantly weaker than similar international policies”.


According to the InfluenceMap report, the FCAI secured multiple meetings with Australian governments throughout 2022 to push for what the think tank calls “weakened fuel efficiency standards”, while at the same time seeking to downplay the potential of battery electric vehicles as part of Australia’s zero- or low-emissions transport fleet.


In a report by Australian publication Drive in response to the InfluenceMap document, actions allegedly taken by the EVC in a “dirty tricks campaign” that excluded automotive stakeholders from consultation on its government submissions and earned the organisation a label of “rogue lobby group”, leading some of its 19 vehicle OEM members to think twice about maintaining their association with the EVC.


The InfluenceMap report alleges so-called “negative advocacy” on fuel efficiency standards on behalf of two of the country’s top-selling importers, namely Toyota and Hyundai, inferring that Toyota Australia’s CEO Matthew Callachor, who until recently was chair of the FCAI board (now deputy chair), and Hyundai Australia COO John Kett, an FCAI director, are complicit in keeping Australia’s new car market in the environmental dark ages.


Critically, the InfluenceMap report calls into question the FCAI’s funding model, suggesting that because the body’s income is largely dependent on membership fees that vary based on new vehicle sales, that importers selling the greatest number of petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles are its largest financial contributors.


Mazda Australia managing director Vinesh Bhindi was recently elected to succeed Mr Callachor as FCAI chair, alongside Mitsubishi Motors Australia Limited president and CEO Shaun Westcott (deputy chair) and Honda Australia director Carolyn McMahon (treasurer).


None of the car-makers represented by these board members have much of a battery electric vehicle presence in their Australian line-ups, instead favouring hybrids or plug-in hybrids.


Other FCAI directors are Ford Australia & New Zealand president and CEO Andrew Birkic, Honda MPE general manager Tony Hinton, Nissan Motor Company Australia managing director Adam Paterson, Inchcape Australia managing director Colin Christie, Tesla Australia & New Zealand country manager Thom Drew and Volvo Cars Australia managing director Stephen Connor.


FCAI CEO Tony Weber serves as the board’s secretary.


To the end of April, Australian car sales data (provided by the FCAI) shows the fuel mix for new passenger, SUV and light commercial vehicles purchased to favour petrol-powered models (54.2 per cent) over diesel (31.6 per cent), battery electric (7.1 per cent), hybrid (6.5 per cent) and plug-in hybrid (0.6 per cent).


InfluenceMap’s report accuses the FCAI of working with the oil industry to create an industry-led, voluntary standard for CO2 with no penalties for compliance failure; setting weak emissions reduction targets for vehicles that only apply in 2030; introducing loopholes including ‘Super Credits’ to promote a longer-term role for combustion engines; splitting the automotive sector into segments that favour “larger, more polluting vehicles”; and retaining industry control over methodology and data collection.


It also levels the stick at the fuel efficiency standards of Australia’s 15 largest vehicle importers, summarising seven via an infographic that shows two as holding a “negative advocacy score”, two presenting a “mixed or unclear position”, and three as simply “positive”. A detailed break-down which includes select comments from manufacturer representatives in discussions media outlets is also tabled in the document.


Further, InfluenceMap accused the FCAI of “moving the goalposts” on climate policy, saying its analysis of the November 2022 National Electric Vehicle Strategy consultations responses show that “both automakers appeared to advocate for numerous flexibilities weakening the rule’s stringency” while also “appearing to support the adoption of fuel efficiency standards similar to the FCAI’s low-ambition proposal”.


It adds that such objectives are “misaligned with (the views of) other FCAI members” including electric vehicle importers Polestar, Tesla, and Volkswagen, while saying the FCAI poses a “major risk to national climate targets”, which raises obvious questions surrounding the ongoing relationship between so-called ‘misaligned’ members and the automotive body.

A test of resolve


GoAuto sought comment from several European importers whose fuel-efficient and new energy vehicle programs would be directly impacted by any such softening of Australia’s emissions standards, including Polestar, Stellantis, Volkswagen and Volvo.


Of those, Stellantis did not respond to GoAuto’s request for an interview, while Polestar said it could not provide a comment.


Volkswagen Group Australia (VGA) underscored its position on the topic by emphasising its long-held focus on the importation of cleaner, conventionally powered models, as well as its outlook on a comprehensive assortment of electrified models across its local brand portfolio (Audi, Bentley, Cupra, Lamborghini, Porsche, Skoda and Volkswagen).


“Volkswagen Group Australia has long advocated a strong fuel efficiency standard and a binding CO2 target with penalties for non-compliance. These measures will ensure our market becomes among those prioritised for production of battery electric vehicles,” explained Volkswagen Group Australia general manager of communications, Paul Pottinger.


“VGA’s position is not subject to that held by other brands or groups. Membership of the FCAI serves a number of purposes for importers, including the collection of accurate sales data. VGA (also) takes part in such FCAI committees as the proposed end of life vehicle recycling scheme.”


FCAI board member and Volvo Cars Australia managing director, Stephen Connor, said reports such as those published by InfluenceMap were an unhelpful distraction in what the FCAI and others are trying to achieve, and that the organisation is committed to what he says is “positive change”.


“As industry leaders, we’ve got to get involved, and we don’t just get involved in looking at CO2 emissions. We look at transport logistics, environmental issues, performance issues and end-of-life vehicle issues. It is an all-encompassing project and, I believe, being part of the FCAI helps to achieve that,” he said.


“The board will tell you that we have got to become carbon neutral, and we have great debates about how to achieve that, and how we do that while making the industry better for consumers – and that’s not always easy to achieve when you consider the spectrum of manufacturers the FCAI represents.


“But fundamentally, I can tell you they all think the same way. Even before I was a member of the board there was an agreed standard of fuel efficiency measurement and CO2 measurement, and at that point, no-one else had done that … and I think comments like these (from InfluenceMap) are a real distraction from the actual fundamental issues that are facing our industry.”


Mr Connor said despite the variance of importers served by the FCAI, he was of the opinion that the organisation was doing well to answer the needs of both environmental groups and Australian consumers, and that continual work towards changing emissions standards carried out by the FCAI must not be undervalued.


“Our industry makes up 15 per cent of global carbon emissions, so we have got to do something. The FCAI knows this. That is why we have a common goal, and why we are finding a way to do something about it,” he emphasised.


“Frankly, this ‘report’ is just a distraction. It’s pointing fingers and shooting bullets at the FCAI and it is not the right way to go about making positive change.


“We’re not going to change our strategy … We will continue to work with the government to come up with a strategy that we can all gradually migrate to, because there’s a huge cost involved in all of this, personal, environmental, and financial. If we don’t get it right, then we’ve lost sight of that goal.


“My personal advice, to everybody on this, is to stop the tittle tattle, and the negativity. Let’s all get around the table and work this out for the right end goal – that’s what we need to be working for. Anything else is a pure distraction if I’m honest about it.”


It is worth noting that the European head offices of at least two of the importers listed above have already made the decision to disassociate from the FCAI’s European equivalent, the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (more commonly known by its French language acronym ACEA).


Last year, Stellantis and Volvo resigned from the powerful lobbying group because “it was not fully aligned” with the companies’ strategies.


The ACEA has been opposed to the European Union’s goal of banning the sale of new internal combustion powered cars from 2035 onwards, which clashes with Volvo’s position to only sell electric vehicles from the end of the decade (and in Australia from 2026).


Stellantis – which parents 14 individual brands – said it plans to introduce EV-only models in Europe from 2026 and has questioned the speed of transition from ICE cars being mandated in the EU.


The ACEA, which currently has 16 members representing European bus, car, and truck manufacturers, says it is committed to the goal of a carbon-neutral Europe by 2050. However, the European Commission and European Parliament are pushing for that deadline to be moved forward to the middle of next decade – despite recent push back from high-performance manufacturers including Ferrari and Porsche.


Last June, the ACEA said it was “concerned” that the European Parliament had rejected efforts to weaken a 100 per cent reduction in CO2 emissions from new cars from 2035, which would essentially ban the sale of ICE powered vehicles in the bloc after that date.


The CEO of the Electric Vehicle Council of Australia (EVC), Behyad Jafari, posted an excerpt from the InfluenceMap report on his social media accounts – replete with a forged FCAI logo which since been withdrawn from the online report – highlighting only a specific phrase from the document.


When asked to provide comment to GoAuto on his views regarding the document, Mr Jafari said only that, “I am not associated with the report by the way, besides earning some fame for posting it on my social media account”.


Australian publication Drive outlined what it called a “dirty tricks campaign” by the EVC saying it had been campaigning the federal government to “introduce some of the most aggressive emissions reduction targets in the world”, largely on behalf of energy and infrastructure providers, and not car companies.


“The Electric Vehicle Council had wrongly told policymakers it had the support of the entire Australian car industry when in fact it consulted only a fraction of its own membership – let alone the entire automotive sector – and had deliberately withheld crucial parts of its draconian proposal from industry experts,” said the Drive article.


“Following the fallout in Canberra last month – after the EVC either failed to consult a number of its own members before tabling recommendation to policymakers, and/or withheld from some members crucial details in its formal proposal – a number of automotive giants are considering stepping away from the rogue lobby group.”


Rogue or not, the EVC’s lobbying of the federal government appears to have so far amounted to little.


A report published in September 2022 by the National Transport Commission says that in spite of the push toward cleaner emissions technology – and the trebling of electric vehicle sales in recent years – the overall emissions intensity of new light vehicles sold in Australia has fallen by just two per cent.


Based upon now two-year-old data, the report blames a lessening of vehicle choice and an increase in the number of larger SUVs and light commercial vehicles (primarily dual-cab utilities) it says have tempered Australia’s overall improvement in reducing tailpipe emissions.


“The Carbon Dioxide Emissions Intensity for New Australian Light Vehicles Report for 2021 shows Australia falling further behind other countries,” the report detailed.


“Of all new passenger cars sold in Australia last year, 45 per cent had an emissions intensity of 160 grams per kilometre or less, compared with 90 per cent of all new cars sold in Europe.”


Like InfluenceMap, the National Transport Commission cited FCAI data in compiling its report, finding the sale of two- and four-wheel drive utilities increased by more than 43,000 units and SUVs by around 25,000 during the period.


It also says the emission intensity of such vehicles often exceeds 210g/km, and states that half of new vehicles sold locally are now LCVs or SUVs, up from a quarter of all sales a decade ago.


The report further added that small vehicle sales – which likewise accounted for 25 per cent of the market a decade ago – now represent just 10 per cent of all new cars sold.


“Australia has some catching up to do with other countries,” the report continued, outlining how a more holistic approach to reducing vehicle-sourced emissions is required.


“Based on trends observed in other countries, increasing investment in public recharging stations, preferential tax arrangements and other incentives, and the adoption of emissions standards can lead to significant uptake in greener vehicles.”

A swift rebuttal


In responding to criticism that its efforts in Australia had not gone far enough to address action on climate change, Hyundai and Toyota, both of which were targeted in the InfluenceMap report, reiterated the specific efforts made in the local market to promote and sell cleaner vehicles.


Both importers have made considerable headway on hybrid, hydrogen and electric fronts, points Hyundai Motor Company Australia says have been intentionally overlooked in The FCAI and Australian Climate Policy report.


While not wishing to be quoted on the record, an employee of HMCA told GoAuto the report was “dismissive of all the South Korean importer had achieved in Australia over the past decade”, including its various collaborations with corporate and government entities, and its extensive low- and zero-emissions product portfolio.


Hyundai was the first to import a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle to Australia (2014) and the first to build a hydrogen refuelling station. It has also sold electrified vehicles in the market since 2018.


GoAuto also spoke with HMCA senior manager of future mobility and government relations, and co-founder and director of the Hydrogen Council of Australia, Scott Nargar, who reiterated much of his colleague’s sentiment – and contradicting entirely the messaging of the InfluenceMap report.


“Hyundai Motor Company calls for ambitious fuel efficiency standards with consumers front of mind. We believe it is time for Australia to adopt an ambitious fuel efficiency standard and that we must move swiftly to catch up with other leading nations,” said Mr Nargar.


“However, we must not overlook the needs of Australian drivers. Hyundai Motor Company has been calling for CO2 regulation on light vehicles for many years and believes Australia must urgently address its upward trend in transport emissions. As a leading car brand, we must do our bit.


“It is unfortunate that the InfluenceMap report paints the Hyundai brand as a ‘blocker of progress’ in Australia when the facts are the exact opposite.”


Mr Nargar reiterated the varied approach HMC was taking toward offering low- and zero-emissions products before adding that he believed the company’s actions – and that of many of its competitors – spoke louder than words.


“We are widely recognised as an industry leader for our commitment to decarbonisation. Instead of talking about EVs, we’re getting on with the job of introducing an ever-growing number of electrified models for Australian drivers to enjoy,” he added.


“We are also one of the first brands to work with Australian governments to integrate EVs into their existing fleets.


“Instead of contemplating a future where EVs form a large part of the Australian automotive landscape, we are working hard to achieve it. But we’re also responding to what our customers want.


“We believe a fuel efficiency standard should strike a balance between the two, and we do not apologise for this. We aim to bring affordable, practical zero-emission transportation to everyone, and our range of vehicles reflects that goal. We are a very progressive car company, and we will continue to work to achieve the very best fuel efficiency standards for Australia.


“Through our membership with the Electric Vehicle Council, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries and as co-founders of the Australian Hydrogen Council, we will continue to advocate on behalf of all Australians for both hydrogen and battery electric vehicle infrastructure as we transition to a zero-emissions transport future,” he concluded.


Toyota Australia added its considerable weight to the argument, urging that a market-specific approach is required when introducing any government-mandated fuel-efficiency standard, locally or elsewhere.


“Toyota Australia welcomes the federal government’s move to introduce mandated fuel-efficiency standard,” a Toyota Australia spokesperson told GoAuto.


“Governments around the world have adopted fuel-efficiency standards that reflect the specific conditions that apply in their market. Australia is no different, except that mandatory standards are being introduced later.


“Toyota Australia supports electrification, but it will take many years before the world has enough battery material and renewable recharging to support a BEV-only solution; therefore, our global approach is to try and incorporate multiple workable paths that ensure no-one is left behind on the journey towards decarbonisation.


“During this transition period, Toyota globally will try to decarbonise by manufacturing some BEVs as well as other electrified vehicles, such as hybrid-electric vehicles that use less lithium and other scarce resources.”


GoAuto also sought the opinion of FCAI chief executive, Tony Weber, who said it was clear that the InfluenceMap report is inappropriate and misleading.


He said that although the consumer is at the heart of the FCAI’s approach, its work towards the creation of an achievable target for emissions reduction has been a clear focus for the best part of a decade – and is one he believes the FCAI has been transparent in presenting publicly.


“Our voluntary standard was established back in 2019 in the absence of a federally mandated standard,” reiterated Mr Weber.


“The government has announced its intention to develop a standard, and we are working with them to set an ambitious yet achievable target for emissions reduction – we have been asking for this for almost a decade.


“The Australian consumer must be considered if this standard is to be effective. Rarely is the consumer mentioned in any commentary from ‘green’ groups. Price and product availability are essential factors in reducing emissions in Australia’s context,” he emphasised.


“We are concerned that the London-based InfluenceMap appears to be creating documents and representing them as FCAI commentary. This is inappropriate and misleading. The world has moved on from 2019. Australia’s motoring industry has moved on. It is time these groups moved on as well.”


Mr Weber reinforced the point that Canberra’s recently released consultation paper entitled Fuel Efficiency Standard – Cleaner, Cheaper to Run Cars for Australia was a clear indicator of just some of the work the FCAI had done in lobbying for a more environmentally friendly car parc – and one that is best suited to the unique needs of the Australian consumer.


“The federal government’s April consultation paper acknowledges the proposed scheme will be suited to Australia, apply all available emissions reducing technologies and ensure that Australian families and businesses are not disadvantaged in terms of choice and price,” he said.


“The questions and topics raised in the consultation paper highlight the complexity of the issue and demonstrates the government has done its homework to ensure any future emissions standard is not a simplistic copy of an overseas standard, but instead suited to Australia.


“The FCAI and its members will work alongside the federal, state and territory governments to progress the development of a fuel efficiency standard that reduces carbon emissions and encourages access to the world’s best zero- and low-emissions vehicle technology.”

Beyond the backroom


While industry in-fighting is being seen to yield little in the way of tangible outcomes for the environment, or Australian consumers, Greenpeace Australia Pacific told GoAuto it has been urging the federal government to put both ahead of what it calls “profiteering car lobbyists”.


In response to the InfluenceMap report, Greenpeace spokesperson Joe Rafalowicz said the report is timely in its indictment of continued efforts by the FCAI and vehicle importers to erode moves that progress Australia’s climate legislation.


“The report is a troubling indictment of the fossil fuel-powered car lobby’s continued efforts to sway policy makers to weaken climate legislation, preventing Australians from accessing the full range of affordable electric vehicles,” Mr Rafalowicz told GoAuto.


“With the federal government now consulting on what a feasible and effective set of fuel efficiency standards might look like, Greenpeace Australia Pacific is of the view that the car lobby – particularly Toyota, who occupy a powerful market share position at the FCAI – are determined to slow Australia’s progress on climate action so that they can protect their petrol-powered profits.


“Despite this, there is accelerating demand for electric vehicles from Australians, who want to power their car with Australian sunshine not polluting, imported petrol, and real momentum within government and the parliament for greater electric vehicle uptake.


“Implementing strong, mandated fuel efficiency standards this year will mark the first step to opening the Australian market to more EVs and ensuring that demand for them can be met. Strong standards mean catching up to the rest of the world – with no loopholes, no dodgy accounting tricks, and equity built-in so that more Australians can access electric vehicles sooner.


“Greenpeace Australia Pacific urges policymakers not to be taken in by the car lobbyist’s blatant anti-climate positioning. At a time of climate crisis, we need strong standards in place to further Australia’s all-important climate efforts.” he concluded.

Read more

Click to share

Click below to follow us on
Facebook  Twitter  Instagram

General News articles

Motor industry news

GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.

Catch up on all of the latest industry news with this week's edition of GoAutoNews
Click here