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SMMT confirms first annual rise in new car CO2 emissions for nearly 20 years

Tue 27 February 2018 | Back to news list

The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders has confirmed figures first released last month which showed that average new car CO2 emissions increased by 0.8% in 2017 to 121.0g/km. The increase in the fleet average new car CO2 figure follows 19 years of reductions and average emissions are still a third (-33.1%) lower than in 2000.

The publication of the SMMT’s 17th annual New Car CO2 report, again gives a valuable and detailed insight into how the new car market is changing and the many factors influencing the evolution of the CO2 data.

Importantly, the SMMT says that EU industry targets are now looking increasingly challenging with 5.9% annual reduction needed to meet  the target 95g/km level by 2021.  This level of reduction is greater than any previously seen.

Recent registration data also showed a reduction in diesel car sales (down 17% in 2017 vs 2016) alongside a small rise (2.7%) in petrol car sales, causing the market share of diesel cars to drop back to 42% (from 48% in 2016), which has undoubtedly contributed to the reversal of the CO2 trajectory.  However shifts in market segment sales as consumers choose SUVs or dual purpose vehicles (up 5%) and move away from Superminis (down 14%), is also a major factor in the changing CO2 profile.

Alternative Fuel Vehicles (AFVs) - including regular hybrid, plug-in and pure battery EV - increased almost 35% year-on-year and made up 4.7% of the overall market last year. (Note that 88% of those 120,000 AFVs have a petrol engine, so the overall petrol market share is somewhat understated). 

The SMMT said the 'anti-diesel' agenda and slow take-up of electric vehicles could mean industry misses its next round of CO2 targets in 2021, with negative consequences for the UK’s own climate change goals.

The SMMT's report says that despite cars being ever more efficient, with new and updated models in 2017 emitting, on average 12.6% less CO2 than those they replaced, this was not enough to offset a 17.1% decline in new diesel registrations. The SMMT's statement said "confusion over government policy caused buyers to hold back".

The SMMT says that because diesel cars typically consume less fuel than petrol equivalents they emit, on average, 15-20% less CO2.  About half last year’s overall CO2 rise was attributable to this decline in diesel demand. Meanwhile, a substantial fall in registrations of smaller cars also had a significant effect, as falling consumer confidence hit the lower end of the market.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: "The industry shares government’s vision of a low carbon future and is investing to get us there – but we can’t do it overnight; nor can we do it alone. The anti-diesel agenda has set back progress on climate change, while electric vehicle demand remains disappointingly low amid consumer concerns around charging infrastructure availability and affordability.

"To accelerate fleet renewal, motorists must have the confidence to invest in the cleanest cars for their needs – however they are powered. A consistent approach to incentives and tax, and greater investment in charging infrastructure will be critical. Now, more than ever, we need a strategy that allows manufacturers time to invest, innovate and sell competitively, and which gives consumers every incentive to adapt."

The SMMT UK New Car CO2 2018 report charts the UK automotive industry’s progress on new vehicle CO2 reduction over two decades, and sets out its vision for the transition to low carbon motoring. It outlines the technology advances and electrification strategies of car manufacturers selling in the UK, with many committing to offer electric models across their entire product ranges by at least 2025.

The report also calls for collective action from all stakeholders, including industry, government, fuel and energy companies, to overcome fears around range anxiety, accessible charging and affordability.

In response to the SMMT report, Paul Morozzo, clean air campaigner at Greenpeace, said: “SMMT is trying shift the blame for the industry’s failure to tackle carbon emissions from cars. Its own reporting shows a shift to selling SUVs has had more of an impact on average CO2 emissions than the shift away from diesel. In reality, the industry just isn’t doing enough to tackle either carbon or air pollution from its vehicles.

LowCVP's Managing Director Andy Eastlake said: "The 2017 rise in new car CO2 emissions was a wake-up call, though not wholly unexpected."

He further commented: "Alternative Fuel Vehicle sales were one of the brightest spots in the data and I anticipate further strong growth this year with the continued focus on air pollution and the introduction of Clean Air Zones. But we will need to significantly re-engage consumers in choosing more fuel efficient vehicles if we are to meet our carbon targets.  The greatest opportunity to influence New Car CO2 comes from consumer choice and policies to reward lower carbon versions of the wide range of vehicles available."

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