Today the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders published the thirteenth edition of its new car CO2 report.
The Good News
Yet again the industry has made great progress in cutting CO2 emissions in all vehicle classes: average emissions are now at 128.3 g/km, already below the European target of 130 g/km by 2015.
On the face of it this is good news for the economy and drivers as it saves them money through lower fuel bills. It is also good for the environment and it means that government is actually on its way to meeting its climate change targets. In fact, passenger vehicle emissions reductions are making such great strides that they are outperforming the Committee on Climate Change’s trajectories and scenarios.
There are, however, a number of challenges which need to be overcome if we are to be truly on track to meeting our obligations. The first is that we are actually buying bigger and heavier cars (which is confirmed by the most recent European Environment Agency report on progress towards meeting the CO2 targets). While the share of mini and supermini cars is increasing, so is that of bigger and multi-purpose cars. The middle is being squeezed out.
We need to be careful that when we come out of the recession we don’t all just go back to buying big cars. Julia King in her seminal report on low-carbon cars said that if all of us bought best-in-class vehicles we could reduce emissions by 25% overnight. It is therefore encouraging to see that 3 out of the top 20 models are non-plug-in cars with emissions approaching the government’s definition of ultra-low-emission vehicles (75 g/km).
The second challenge is the discrepancy between ‘official’ and on-the-road emissions and fuel economy figures, which has actually been increasing over the years (International Council on Clean Transportation). This is particularly so for cars in the smaller and supposedly ‘greener’ segments. The problem is that this erodes consumer trust in vehicle manufactures and it also means that the government’s climate change ambitions are undermined because all the targets are based on ‘official’ data which underestimate the climate change impact.
We accept that any kind of test cycle on which the figures are based is ever only going to be exactly that, and that it must be repeatable and robust. But we can all agree that change needs to happen. The question is when: the latest proposals are to introduce the new test cycle and procedure (Worldwide harmonized Light-duty Test Procedure) by 2017 – we support this, but recognise that the adaptation of the 2020 target must be carefully thought through.
Lastly, there is the issue of air quality. The focus on climate change over the years has brought about a dieselisation of the vehicle fleet. While this is great for cutting CO2 emissions and fuel consumption, it has been bad news for air quality, particularly NOx emissions, which can cause or certainly exacerbate respiratory illnesses. It is very important that the UK and the industry get their act together in terms of air quality as the European Commission recently started official infringement proceedings against the UK for failing to meet the EU’s air quality targets.
To overcome the above challenges, I would like to see the following changes:
- Stronger incentives for low-emission cars: Under the current Vehicle Excise Duty (‘car tax’) system, the incentive to go for the lowest CO2-emitting cars is weak. What we would like to see are more tiered/graded incentives – much like a ‘feebate’ scheme (low-emission cars receive rebates, high-emission cars pay fees) – which provide stronger incentives to buy best-in-class, and disincentives for the highest-emitting vehicles. The success of feebate schemes is evidenced by the French ‘bonus-malus’ system which was so successful that the government had to revise the system after the first year or two as it was losing money.
- Revision of the test cycle: We would like to see a revision of the current test cycle and procedure (New European Drive Cycle) to the new Worldwide harmonized Light-Duty Test Cycle and Procedure (WLTC/P). This will (hopefully) bring on-the-road emissions closer to test cycle results. We recognise that the 2020 CO2 target will have to be adapted so the goal post isn’t moved last minute for manufacturers.
- Accelerated turnover of the diesel fleet: The emphasis here is (or should be!) on ‘low-emission’ vehicles, not merely ‘low-carbon’ vehicles. We would like to see an accelerated turnover of older (Euro 2, 3 and 4) diesel vehicles as it is these that are responsible for much of the problem to do with air pollution. This could be achieved through a scrappage or loan scheme, which might be worth considering as part of the government’s proposals to invest a further £500 million into ultra-low emission vehicles.
- An ambitious but feasible new car CO2 target for 2025 (and beyond): This will provide certainty to industry, save drivers money, reduce oil dependency, and make sure that Europe, and particularly the UK, remain the global leader in green vehicles which will attract investment and jobs. Our research, Powering Ahead, suggests that this should be of the order of 60 to 70 g/km.
We very much look forward to seeing the industry continue to make great progress in the coming years.