Thursday, October 06, 2011

Cars are slowly getting greener and cheaper, despite manufacturers' claims

Smart cars in London
Average CO2 emissions from cars have now dropped to 140g CO2/km, and prices have fallen in real terms, with Fiat, Toyota and Peugeot-Citroen leading the pack with Europe’s cleanest fleets, and Volvo managing the largest cuts in CO2 on average in 2010 (9%).

All in all, the average car sold in Europe last year was 4% more fuel efficient, emitted 4% less CO2, and yet was 2.5% cheaper in real terms than the year before.

The news comes in the sixth report of T&E – European Federation for Transport and Environment - on the annual progress Europe’s major car manufacturers have made in reducing CO2 emissions and fuel consumption of new cars.

It criticises Honda and Mazda's new cars for actually having increased emissions. Daimler has the worst average CO2 emissions of major manufacturers, followed by Volvo – despite its efforts to improve.

The price falls and average performance improvements are contrary to earlier claims by manufacturers that costs would increase if they had to comply with EU legislation to reduce emissions.

The European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA), which represents car-makers such as BMW, Daimler, Fiat, Ford and General Motors, had previously warned that being forced to meet an EU target of 130g CO2/km by 2012 would "lead to a price increase per car of up to €3,000 on average", causing European job losses, and the relocation of car plants outside the EU.

Jos Dings, director of Transport & Environment commented: “The car industry has consistently resisted fuel efficiency regulations by complaining that cars would become ‘unaffordable’. But car emissions have now dropped to 140g CO2/km and that simply hasn’t happened; prices have actually fallen in real terms.”

European car manufacturers are opening factories outside the EU, to some extent, with Volkswagen being the latest one to locate a plant in China. It will join Nissan, Daimler and other carmakers, by producing its Tantus model in Shanghai, but the market for the vehicles is said to be largely within China itself.

The venture does not necessarily mean jobs being lost in the EU, and it could even be cited as evidence that EU encouragement to manufacturers to improve environmental performance helps with their export potential and competitiveness.

The improvements in emission reductions follow a trend, from an average of 196g CO2/km in 1997 to 174g CO2/km in 2008, according to another report, Energy use and CO2 emissions, published this summer by the UK's Institute of Advanced Motoring (IAM).

And the fall in real terms of prices of fuel-efficient cars looks set to continue.

According to a recent study for the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP), the total cost of owning an electric or hydrogen vehicle is likely to approach those of conventional cars within 15-20 years.

EU targets for vehicle emissions

The EU is currently committed to cutting greenhouse gas emissions 80-95% by 2050, compared with their level in 1990, which will be quite a task since latest figures from the Emissions Database for Global Atmospheric Research (EDGAR) and other sources show global carbon dioxide emissions have increased by a worrying 45% since 1990.

In order to achieve the planned reduction at the lowest cost, the EU's Roadmap for moving to a competitive low carbon economy in 2050 estimates that transport-sector emissions should be cut by 50-70% by 2050.

Current targets, set in 2009, are that from the beginning of 2012, emissions from new cars should not exceed 130g CO2/km and 120g CO2/km by 2015. There is a tentative target for 2020 of 95g CO2/km, to be confirmed in 2013, following the new consultation on reducing greenhouse gas emissions from road transport by the EC's Directorate-General for Climate Action.

The online questionnaire, which individuals and organisations can answer until 9 December, solicits opinions on Heavy Duty Vehicles and whether there should be regulations set now for after 2020.

One criticism of current regulations is that cars are classed by weight, rather than overall performance. A consequence of this is that in Germany, a new labelling scheme gives small efficient models such as the Smart and Fiat Panda a ‘D’ category, while the Audi Q7, a large SUV, gets a green ‘B’ rating.

While carbon dioxide emissions from other sectors in the EU are generally falling, those from road transport have continued to increase since 1990 and now form about a fifth of the EU's total.

The IAM research says that cars generate 14% of all CO2 emissions in the UK, compared to 10% globally.

But we can get too obsessed with small differences in the efficiency of vehicles, when other factors also contribute to emissions.

As IAM director of policy and research Neil Greig says, it's "driving style that is crucial - the best fuel-saver is a light right foot and anticipation of the road ahead.”

The benefits of electric vehicles

This applies to EVs - electric vehicles - just as much as conventional ones. The range of one of these can be increased by an average 20% using the right technique, according the the Energy Saving Trust's Smarter Driving pilot programme.

The Energy Saving Trust has published a new video guide - Living with an electric car - about the benefits and limitations of owning a vehicle like the Nissan Leaf.

Presented by Robert Llewellyn of Red Dwarf and Scrapheap Challenge fame, it looks at charging, range and especially the cost savings from going electric.

It says that driving a small family hatchback with an efficient diesel engine would cost about £4,200 +VAT in diesel at current fuel costs to drive 10,000 miles per year for 4 years.

But a similar sized electric car would cost around £960+VAT at current electricity prices; assuming half of the electricity is provided through an “economy 7” or a similar tariff.

Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) and parking and access charges are also cheaper.

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