Carmakers exaggerated time needed for CO2 cuts

European carmakers are set to achieve mandatory EU targets for new car CO2 emissions years ahead of time according to a new report published today. One carmaker, Toyota, has almost met its target for the year 2015, six years in advance. The study's findings suggest that carmakers previously exaggerated the time needed to comply with car CO2 limits. Therefore targets now being discussed for vans should be tightened according to Transport & Environment.

Reductions in CO2 emissions of vehicles are directly linked to fuel efficiency improvements.

During 2008, carmakers lobbied aggressively to extend by three years a deadline for average new car CO2 emissions to reach 130g/km. As a result the EU postponed the target year from 2012 until 2015.

A new EU legal proposal to set emissions standards for vans is working its way through the legislative process and vehicle manufacturers are again repeating their calls for targets and deadlines to be weakened.

Jos Dings, director of Transport & Environment said: “Three years ago the car industry said it could not deliver car CO2 targets on time but is now set to achieve them years ahead of schedule. Now the same industry is saying van CO2 limits cannot be met; it is time the credibility of these claims was questioned.”

Crisis only partly responsible; technology explains more than half of improvements

Carmakers recorded a record drop of 5.1% in average CO2 emissions last year according to the report. Many analysts and commentators have assumed that this was due mostly to the financial crisis, and government subsidies for new cars (so-called ‘scrappage schemes’) which both had the effect of shifting consumer demand towards cheaper, and typically smaller and hence more efficient, cars.

But the report by Transport & Environment shows that the economic crisis and subsidies are not the most important factor in last year’s CO2 reductions. It concludes that more than half of the reduction in 2009, or close to a 3% improvement in average efficiency, was achieved through better technology, rather than sales of smaller cars.

The report found that five companies (Toyota, Suzuki (1), Daimler, Ford and Mazda) achieved more than 3% CO2 reductions though the application of new technology, while three others (Hyundai, Suzuki (1) and Fiat) achieved the same as a result of selling smaller vehicles due to the subsidies.

Dings commented: “This data shows that last year’s big improvement in fuel efficiency was not just a one-off caused by a shift to smaller cars; carmakers are adding fuel-saving technologies. So the trend of reduced CO2 emissions is structural and will therefore continue when the market returns to normal. The CO2 regulation is clearly working.”

The latest figures show that Toyota made the greatest progress in cutting CO2 emissions last year (10%), and is now closest to achieving its target for 2015. BMW, the company that made the biggest progress in 2007 and 2008, achieved just a 2% reduction in 2009 suggesting that its ‘efficient dynamics’ programme has been finalised.

Volkswagen Group, Europe’s biggest-selling carmaker, disappointed again last year both in fleet average CO2 (12th of 14) and in year-on-year progress (10th of 14) despite having several individual models with very competitive CO2 ratings. According to the report, it appears that Volkswagen keeps the share of its most efficient vehicles relatively low compared with other carmakers. This also explains why the average new car from the VW Group still has higher CO2 emissions than the average BMW despite being 8% lighter and 27% less powerful.

(1) Suzuki made big cuts in CO2 as a result of selling more small vehicles thanks to subsidies AND improved technology across the range – hence the company appears in both lists.

- To download your copy of the full report, click here.

- Animated chart showing distance to EU CO2 targets of major carmakers

- Media coverage of report