PARIS – European auto makers are calling for greater support from national governments and European Union institutions in promoting eco-driving – where good motoring styles are adopted that reduce greenhouse gases and other vehicles emissions.

The EU sees itself as a world leader in the fight against climate change, with some of the toughest legislation on the planet in the fight to cut carbon-dioxide emissions.

However, it has no legislation encouraging drivers to keep steady speeds, avoid sharp accelerations and other behaviors that increase emissions.

European auto makers complain they are shouldering too heavy a burden.

“Reducing CO2 emissions from cars should be a shared responsibility,” says Wolfgang Hennig, eco-driving manager for Ford of Europe’s environmental strategy and communications department. “Technology, alone, cannot solve this question of how to reduce emissions from cars.”

Hennig believes action also should be required from the fuel industry, policy makers and consumers if auto makers must make their cars greener.

“We want to be part of the solution, but there have been no discussions about this with policy makers,” he says.

However, recent formal proposals for reducing vehicle emissions by the European Commission, the EU’s executive body, do include sharing some of the burden with road users.

The EC’s mandate is to cut CO2 emissions by new passenger cars from 160 g/km to 130g/km in 2012 through improving engine technology. But a further 10 g/km reduction is expected to come from other technologies – such as tires – as well as a shift towards a greater use of biofuels and more widespread use of eco-driving.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Assn. says eco-driving training can lead to an immediate reduction in fuel consumption of up to 25%.

But despite the wider use of eco-driving specified as a clear EU policy goal, there is no legal obligation on the part of European drivers to adopt such techniques or a common standard across the 27-member bloc.

Instead, the EU is leaving it up to the individual governments to run their own voluntary schemes, which if successful could lead to the EC including rules and standards on eco-driving in future legislation.

At present, just nine EU countries – Austria, Finland, Czech Republic, Belgium, Poland, France, Greece, the U.K. and the Netherlands – have introduced eco-driving as part of a pilot program called Ecodriven.

The initiative focuses on basic eco-driving principles: shift out of low gear as soon as possible; maintain a steady speed; anticipate traffic flow; decelerate smoothly; and check tire pressure frequently.

Ford of Europe, along with other auto makers, is keen to see a wide approach to CO2 reduction that includes the public.

“We support the EU’s (ultimate) target of cutting CO2 emissions to 120 g/km, but this has to be cost effective for auto makers,” Hennig says. “We cannot be expected to do this alone, at the cost of massive job losses.

“We can introduce technology into new cars that will contribute to reaching the 120g/km target, but most Europeans don’t drive new cars. So there has to be some complementary measures to help drivers take responsibility themselves.” Jonathan James, of the Faber Maunsell consultancy firm, has worked closely with freight companies in the U.K. that are practicing the Ecodriven scheme.

He says there has been a noticeable shift in attitude towards eco-driving in recent years, with the money that can be saved by using less fuel a prime motivating factor.

James cites U.K. hauler Hardstaff, which participates in the Ecodriven program. The company offers a bonus to drivers based on their mileage per gallon. The drivers are rewarded for every 0.1-mpg (0.04-km/L) increase above the set benchmark for a 3-month period.

The result, he says, is an average 0.6-mpg (0.3-km/L) increase in fuel efficiency, representing a savings of $5,053 per vehicle annually.

Some truck makers also have introduced new technology that allows drivers to see how they are driving in order to improve their fuel efficiency.

For example, Isuzu Motors Ltd. has a new range of commercial vehicles equipped with an onboard computer system that records the use of the accelerator, gearshift, brake and clutch.

Data is downloaded into a laptop, showing each driver how they perform on the road and acting as the basis for tailored eco-driving lessons.

The onboard computer is able to relay real-time driving information back to a control center – such as the head office of a truck firm – which can be compared with the driver’s original performance, allowing bonuses to be awarded to drivers who save the most fuel.

Additionally, the onboard computer can be programed to give real-time instructions to drivers when they deviate from agreed upon eco-driving practices.

A similar system will be introduced by Italian auto maker Fiat Automobiles SpA in Europe this year, although it is aimed at the public.

Fiat’s EcoDrive onboard computer saves driving data onto a flash drive, which then is plugged into a laptop to allow users to analyze their driving performances in terms of CO2 emissions.

The software offers driving tips and recommendations on how to further reduce emissions based on a comparison with official fuel consumption and emission figures for the car.

The software also can be run over a network, allowing drivers to compare their fuel consumption and, Fiat says, “encourage drivers to come together and pool their savings, working towards much bigger collective targets” for CO2 reduction.

Eco-driving can have an impact on reducing CO2, whether it’s through driver training or the use of in-car technology, says Ford’s Hennig, while also offering a note of caution.

Neither system will be sufficient on its own to enable the EU to meet its targets for reducing CO2, he says, stressing more political will is needed to push through changes.

“There is no clear direction at the moment,” Hennig says, calling for an EU guideline “on how the 120 g/km target will be reached.” This should include the introduction of new technologies and eco-driving.

“People would see the advantages of eco-driving for themselves in terms of fuel economy and saving money, important at a time when global fuel prices are high,” he says.

Hennig dispels concerns about the auto makers’ willingness to get involved in tackling emissions, in whatever way possible.

“The automobile industry is going to be paying for the efforts to cut CO2 emissions, however it is achieved,” he says. “All we are asking as car makers is that this commitment on our part be acknowledged, and that we are rewarded for it.”