EU Commission reviews exemptions for restriction on leaded automobile manufacturing materials


Dec. 23, 2022

On December 16, 2022, the European Commission adopted a delegated directive amending Annex II of the End-of-Life Vehicles Directive (ELV, 2000/53/EC), renewing and altering exemptions for using lead in aluminum alloys for machining purposes, in copper alloys, and in certain batteries.

Regulatory background

  • The ELV Directive was introduced by EU lawmakers in 2000 to address the environmental impact of the 8-9 million metric tons of waste generated annually in the form of passenger, light commercial, and three-wheeled motor vehicles that have reached the end of their usefulness. Banning the usage of certain hazardous materials in these vehicle classes was therefore important in preventing their release into the environment upon the destruction of these vehicles at the end of their lives.
  • To this end, article 4(a) of the ELV Directive bans concentrations of lead, hexavalent chromium, and mercury above 0.1% by weight and of cadmium above 0.01% by weight used in homogeneous material. Concentrations of these four hazardous substances below the threshold levels are allowed.
  • Article 4(b) calls for the Commission to exempt certain materials from this ban if their use is unavoidable. Directive (EU) 2018/849 amended the ELV Directive to specify that these exemptions should come in the form of a delegated act.

The Commission reviews lead exemptions

  • Annex II of the ELV Directive specifies that exemptions 2(c)(i), 3, and 5(b) are to be reviewed in 2021. These three entries concern the usage of lead in aluminum alloys for machining purposes, copper alloys, and batteries not used in high-voltage propulsion systems, respectively.
  • The Commission contracted research consultancy groups to review these three exemptions, ensuring the incorporation of an 8-week online stakeholder consultation into the scientific assessment conducted. The draft findings were made available to the EU expert group on waste (E03343) on June 28, 2021. Those findings were as follows:
    • Today there are lead-free aluminum alloys suitable for machining purposes that could replace their leaded counterparts. An immediate swap however was recognized as impractical by consulted stakeholders. To reconcile these two realities, the study recommends renewing exemption 2(c)(i) as written while setting it to expire on New Year’s Day 2028. This affords manufacturers a reasonable transitional period to make the switch away from leaded aluminum alloys for machining purposes.
    • There are still no suitable alternatives to the inclusion of lead in copper alloys used in vehicles. As such, exemption 3 should remain in full effect and carmakers will still be allowed up to 4% lead when using the substance in their manufacturing. The Commission hopes for scientific progress to identify a substitute for leaded materials in the near future however, and so includes language in the Delegated Directive to ensure this exemption is reviewed once again in 2025.
    • The section of the study reviewing exemption 5(b) on car batteries found it crucial to amend this entry to differentiate based on battery voltage. This is because while industry instances of totally unleaded 12 V batteries are few and far between, 24 V and 48 V batteries are regularly devoid of lead. The study acknowledges that some luxury cars today utilize unleaded 12 V lithium-ion batteries, but notes that this technology is currently 3 to 5 times more expensive than the lead-acid batteries commonly used at this voltage. Aside from the impracticality of passing on this considerable cost to consumers of non-luxury vehicles, it is also unclear whether lithium-ion batteries can be produced at scale while still meeting industry standards for performance and recyclability. In contrast, consultants did not find a single example of a European automobile produced today with a leaded battery of a voltage of 24 or 48.
    • For this reason, the Delegated Directive splits exemption 5(b) into two parts with 5(b)(i) renewing the exemption for 12 V batteries and 5(b)(ii) phasing out the exemption for 24 V and 48 V batteries by the end of 2023. Although this transition period may seem short, there are virtually no cars produced in Europe today that would be affected by the deletion of this exemption.


  • Car manufacturers can expect reasonable transitional periods when the Commission removes exemptions upon identifying suitable alternatives to leaded materials. While there are currently alternatives to using leaded aluminum alloys for machining purposes, the Commission has granted around five years of ample notice before manufacturers must reflect this fact in the cars they produce. Despite the study’s failure to even confirm the existence of a leaded 24 V or 48 V car produced in Europe today, the Delegated Directive still allows for a transitional period lasting until 2024 when revoking the exemption for using lead in these components. This echoes the longer time horizons for compliance exclusively afforded to vehicle manufacturers when the Commission proposed banning the use of formaldehyde-releasing materials this year. In a proposed regulation put to a REACH Committee vote earlier this month, vehicle manufacturers were given a longer 48-month transitional period to comply with prospective restrictions while manufacturers of all other product types were afforded only a 36-month transitional period. (For an in-depth analysis of this proposed Regulation please read AgencyIQ’s previous article here.) It’s clear that the Commission is savvy to the long time horizons inherent to automobile production and integrates this reality into its legislation.
  • It’s similarly clear that the Commission and its consultants have leaned on stakeholder expertise in instances where their own technical knowledge is lacking. Perhaps the most cited body in the study informing this Delegated Directive is the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), known as the primary lobbying group for carmakers on the continent. Its membership includes BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Ferrari to name just a few. There are instances in this study where “the consultants acknowledge that ACEA et al. are in a position to have the most expertise” on the topics at hand. It seems unlikely that a Delegated Directive informed so comprehensively by a study privileging the opinion of the foremost European carmaker lobbying group would be overly harsh in its treatment of car manufacturers.

What’s next?

  • Both the EU Parliament and Council have the right to revoke a Delegated Directive. They will have two months to consider the document. Both a vote in favor, by a qualified majority in the Council and a majority in the Parliament, or a failure to vote at all are sufficient to ensure the Directive is approved. Either of these bodies voting against the Directive will have its adoption revoked.
  • Though approval would have this Delegated Directive come into force on the twentieth day following its publication in the Official Journal of the European Union, this will have no legal effect until member states transpose the intention of the Directive into their own national law. Member states must accomplish this by the first of the month following six months after this publication date.
  • Member states are obligated to reference this Directive when transposing it into their own domestic legislation. They are similarly expected to provide the European Union with the text of this legislation.

To contact the author of this analysis, please email Rayan Bhargava ( [email protected])

To contact the editor of this analysis, please email Scott Stephens ( [email protected])

Key Documents and Dates

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