BMW leaps ahead on new car CO2 emissions, others still stalling

BMW AG improved fuel efficiency last year at four times the average rate of major manufacturers, new figures show. But the overall performance of the industry was not enough to meet proposed climate targets for new cars.

Improved fuel efficiency is directly linked to reductions in the CO2 emissions responsible for climate change.

The average new car sold by BMW in 2007 typically consumed 7.3% less fuel than in the previous year, leading to a cut in average CO2 emissions from 184g CO2/km in 2006 to 170 g/km in 2007 according to the report by Transport & Environment (T&E), a sustainable transport campaign group. The average improvement for all cars sold in the EU was just 1.7%. This is more than last year’s all-time low of 0.7 per cent, but still not enough to meet climate targets.

Jos Dings, director of T&E said: “With the threat of legislation looming, BMW has shown that even premium carmakers can seriously reduce CO2. But the slow response of most carmakers shows that the EU needs to keep up the pressure with challenging, long-term CO2 targets.”

In December 2007 the European Commission proposed that new cars should emit, on average, no more than 130g CO2/km by 2012. But according to the planned law, each company would receive its own target, based on the average weight of its vehicles in that year; premium carmakers would therefore get easier targets.

Despite this, German carmakers, including BMW, have been lobbying hard against the targets, arguing that they should be ‘phased-in’ over several years. In effect this would mean that the target would initially only apply to the cleanest segment of the fleet.

Dings said: “German carmakers want CO2 targets to only apply to the cleanest cars in the early years. It’s the equivalent of demanding that a smoking ban should only apply to non-smokers.”

The T&E report shows that German carmakers now appear to be closing the gap on their French and Italian rivals, in contrast to last year when their emissions actually increased on average.

Other companies that made notable improvements in CO2 reductions include Hyundai Motor (-3.9%) and Daimler AG (-3.5%). But more than half of Daimler’s improvement is a result of the sale last year of its gas-guzzling Chrysler arm, not to enhanced fuel efficiency of Daimler’s cars.

Industry lobbyists are also arguing for ‘flexfuel’ cars (that can run on both biofuels and conventional fuel) to be considered as low CO2 models, regardless of their actual emissions. That would be a mistake according to T&E. The environmental impact (including CO2 emissions) of biofuels are currently very uncertain, and there is no guarantee that drivers will actually use them. Replacing the fuel is also no substitute for energy efficiency measures. Given the crucial role of vehicle efficiency in achieving climate and oil dependence objectives, such an ‘escape’ would be unacceptable.

The European Parliament’s Environment Committee is scheduled to vote on the car CO2 law on 8-9 September.

T&E is calling for a target of 120g/km by 2012, in line with an official EU target first proposed in 1994 by the former German environment minister Angela Merkel (now Chancellor). The fourteen-year-old target was supposed to be achieved by 2005 and has already been postponed three times.

The 120g/km average target can be met with existing technology including stop-start engines, weight reduction, engine downsizing and other modest improvements. T&E is therefore also calling for a long-term target of 80 g/km by 2020 to ensure that carmakers invest now in the technology needed to dramatically improve fuel efficiency in the long term.

The T&E report, based on sales in Europe in 2007, are derived from official EU monitoring data obtained by T&E under laws granting access to official documents. T&E commissioned the independent Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP) in London to analyse the data.

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Nico Muzi
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