Car CO2 emissions at record low, but SMMT urges caution

Average CO2 emissions for new cars sold in the UK have fallen for a 19th consecutive year, with 2016's figure of 120.1 g/km CO2 improving on 2015's record by 1.1%, and down a third compared to levels in 2000.

The reduction has come from two main areas, with both improvements in efficiency and technology combining with changing buying behaviour credited with the lower figures.

Announced by industry body, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT), smaller and more efficient engines coming onto the market make up a significant proportion of continued CO2 reductions. However, improved battery technology has also seen greater numbers of Ultra Low Emission and Zero Emission Vehicles (ULEVs & ZEVs) hitting the UK's roads, with each one sold having a fairly significant impact on the average.

With the EU's largest market for battery electric and plug-in hybrid cars at almost a quarter of all registrations in 2016, there is potential for records to continue to be broken. However, there are warnings that changes in policy and continuing buying trends could have negative effects.

With changes to the UK's VED ratings due to begin in the next few months, incentives for buyers to get behind the wheel of cars with low CO2 figures are lessened - especially those ULEVs that are not ZEVs. It is hoped that buyers will continue to pick more efficient cars because of the lower running costs and increased awareness for air quality anyway, but tax had been a strong incentive with the current system.

Likewise, despite more drivers picking plug-in vehicles, there is also a trend for crossover models that shows no signs of slowing down yet. Some manufacturers are beginning to offer hybrid, PHEV, and electric versions, though there are still far fewer options compared to the conventional and comparable hatchback and saloon/estate markets.

These two factors have made the SMMT cautious of its predictions that it will continue to be ahead of the curve for EU average CO2 emissions figures. In 2021, the new average target will be 95 g/km CO2, and although the UK may or may not need to reach that EU set figure by that date because of Brexit, it is expected that authorities will largely stick to existing goals.

It must be noted that all figures are based on the official NEDC ratings for new cars sold. To do any different would mean the average figures wouldn't be easily comparable, but it is widely recognised that the existing testing set-up is fundamentally flawed. The discrepancy between official NEDC figures and real world statistics is, on average, around 40%, according to the ICCT - International Council on Clean Transport.

The NEDC yardstick might not be accurate, but it is the only yardstick available at the moment, though new real driving emissions testing is set to come in over the coming years.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: "The automotive industry has some of the most challenging CO2 reduction targets of any sector and continues to deliver reductions as it has for nearly two decades. For this positive trend to continue, modern low emission diesels and AFVs (Alternatively Fuelled Vehicles) such as plug-ins, hydrogen and hybrids must be encouraged with long term incentives.

"Turning our back on any of these will undermine progress on CO2 targets as well as air quality objectives. The UK has a successful track record in encouraging these new technologies but this must be maintained through a consistent approach to fiscal and other incentives."

Find out more about car emissions here

Chris Lilly

Author:Chris Lilly
Date Updated:2nd Mar 2017

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