HELSINKI -- Most American cars and half of European models do not meet new fuel consumption standards that China will introduce at mid-year, a European Commission official said on Friday.
But car industry officials played down any concerns that their sales in a crucial market might be at risk. "China plans to introduce next summer tough environmental norms. Eighty percent of U.S.-made cars would not fulfill these and 50 percent of European cars," Timo Makela, director of sustainable development and integration at the European Commission, told a seminar in Helsinki.
"For some reason, most of French cars would fulfill the demands," he said, adding his information came from industry sources.
Volkswagen, Europe's biggest carmaker and market leader in China, said it was relaxed about the new norms for cars and light commercials vehicles to be launched in July and toughened in 2008.
A study last year that suggested many U.S. and European cars were too fuel-thirsty for China was inaccurate, because it used data that did not come from manufacturers and was at least in part outdated, a VW spokesman said.
"I can only speak for Volkswagen, but all the cars we make and import will meet all the fuel consumption standards for both 2005 and 2008," he said, adding the rules would "definitely not" hinder sales in China.
The Chinese government has also not spelled out what will happen to vehicles that don't meet the standards, added a spokesman for German car industry association VDA.
"German manufacturers are certainly positioned to fulfill these (rules) but not in all areas or segments," he said.
China unveiled the standards last October as part of its strategy to conserve energy and protect the environment.
Any factors that limit sales would be a hard blow for carmakers, already seeing sales growth falter in one of the world's most important markets.
Car sales in China were up just 15 percent last year after nearly doubling in 2003, hammered by government-ordered credit curbs to cool an economy in danger of overheating.
What's more, China's car market has been racked by a price war, which worsened when sales began slowing dramatically in the first half of 2004. This has cut margins and depressed profits.