Press Release

Rising CO2 emissions a problem of carmakers’ own making as they push SUVs but hold back electric cars

June 24, 2019

Official new data from the EU’s environmental watchdog (EEA) shows that the CO2 emissions of new cars increased by 1.6% in 2018 to 120.4 grams of CO2 per km. While the lack of progress in real-world emissions and fuel efficiency was known for years, [1] now even the optimised and unrealistic lab test tests can no longer hide the problem. For the first time, CO2 emissions from vans also rose, by 1.2%.

The main driver is the rising sales of polluting yet very profitable SUVs. The average petrol SUV sold last year emitted 133g CO2/km while the average of other petrol cars sold was 120g CO2/km, according to provisional EU data released today. Heavier and less aerodynamic – and therefore less fuel efficient – than other cars, SUVs now account for around a third of new cars sold in Europe – up from 7% in 2008 [2].

Julia Poliscanova, clean vehicles manager at T&E, said: “Carmakers are playing a high risk game where they’re deliberately postponing sales of cleaner cars to maximise SUV-fueled profits. It may please their shareholders but it’s a tragedy for our planet. These figures are a stark reminder that governments need to be much more forceful when it comes to promoting zero emission vehicles, in particular by reforming vehicle taxation and rolling out charge points.”

There are many ways to reduce car emissions, notably by selling hybrid or electric cars. But carmakers in Europe are lagging behind China and the US in selling battery electric vehicles, with BEVs accounting for just 1% of new cars sold in 2018, according to the EEA. Carmakers have so far suppressed the choice of models and their availability with only 25 battery electric or hydrogen models available in 2018 [3], which explains low sales reported by the EEA. But the number of new models will rise sharply to 42 in 2019, 71 in 2020 and 93 in 2021 as carmakers rush to comply with the 2020/2021 targets.

Julia Poliscanova concluded: “When it comes to the environment, carmakers only do what the law tells them to do. So they’re all waiting for 2020 when the CO2 standards kick in to roll-out enough plug-in cars to comply with the EU CO2 law. Aided by cheaper batteries and better performance, they will have no difficulty selling them to European consumers.”

Note to editors:

[1] See T&E’s reports in 2016 and 2018:

[2] Historic SUV and diesel EU market shares are from ICCT’s Pocketbook:

[3] Full data on availability of EV models will be published in a T&E report next month.

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