The European Commission has proposed a new emissions standard that will require all new road vehicles to meet tougher pollution-reduction requirements, including lower emissions from brakes and tyres, even those on electric vehicles.
The target of having cleaner vehicles is separate from the goals of reducing CO2 emissions which are part of the EU's mission to be net carbon neutral by 2050.
By 2035, all cars and vans sold in the EU will have zero CO2-emissions.
However, the Commission says that by 2050 more than 20% of cars and vans, and more than half of heavier vehicles, will still emit pollutants from the tailpipe, while electric vehicles will still cause pollution from brakes and microplastics from tyres.
The EU’s Internal Market Commissioner Thierry Breton said the so-called Euro 7 standards would ensure cleaner vehicles and improved air quality, as the EU continues to pursue its European Green Deal ambitions of zero pollution.
"The two sets of rules give the automotive supply chain a clear direction for reducing pollutant emissions, including using digital technologies," the Commission said in a statement.
The Euro 7 emission standards will ensure that cars, vans, lorries and buses are cleaner "in real driving conditions that better reflect the situation in cities where air pollution problems are largest, and for a much longer period than under current rules."
The new standards would broaden the range of driving conditions covered by on-road emissions tests so they would better reflect the range of conditions that vehicles experience, including temperatures of up to 45C or short trips typical of daily commutes.
Particle limits will be tightened for lorries and buses while the lowest existing limits for cars and vans will apply regardless of the fuel used by the vehicle.
The new rules will also set emission limits for previously unregulated pollutants, such as nitrous oxide emissions from heavy-duty vehicles.
The Commission says the new Euro 7 standards will be the first worldwide emission standards to move beyond regulating exhaust pipe emissions.
Under the new rules all vehicles will have to comply with the rules for a longer period than until now.
Compliance for cars and vans will be checked until these vehicles reach 200,000km and ten years of age, meaning a doubling of the durability requirements under existing rules.
The Commission said the new rules will regulate the durability of car batteries in order to increase consumer confidence in electric vehicles, and will reduce the need for replacing batteries early in the life of a vehicle.
The proposals will need the support of member states and the European Parliament.
On 27 October, MEPs agreed to set a zero emissions sales mandate for new cars by 2035, effectively meaning that any new vehicles sold from that date must be electric.
However, Thierry Breton insisted on an emergency brake review clause in 2026, given the scale of the upheaval that the European motor industry would face in order to phase out the combustion engine by 2035.
The European car industry has criticised today's stricter limits for pollutants.
Oliver Zipse, president of the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), said: "The environmental benefit of the Commission’s proposal is very limited, whereas it heavily increases the cost of vehicles. It focuses on extreme driving conditions that have hardly any real-life relevance."
The industry also criticised new standards for heavier commercial vehicles, known as Euro VII.
Martin Lundstedt, the chief executive of Volvo Group, said: "Truck makers will have to move substantial engineering and financial resources from battery and fuel-cell electric vehicles back to the internal combustion engine.
"This will severely impact our transition to zero-emission vehicles. It is not good for the climate, not good for people’s health and not good for the industry."
However, the Green group in the European Parliament said the measures did not go far enough and that the Commission had ignored the advice of an expert panel.
Green MEP and vice chair of the environment committee Bas Eickhout said: "After making Europe’s citizens and industries wait with baited breath for almost two years, the Commission has presented a so-called update to emissions standards, which disregards its own experts and environmental goals.
"With these lax rules, the Commission risks driving 100M highly polluting cars onto Europe’s streets."