Rise in car CO2 emissions last year due to surging SUV sales, not declining diesel – analysis

Last week’s confirmation that the average CO2 emissions of a new car sold in the EU increased in 2017 is the result of carmakers selling more SUVs, crossovers and more powerful vehicles, T&E’s study shows. The European Environment Agency (EEA) reported a small but expected rise in new car CO2 emissions of 0.4g/km.


But despite carmakers’ self-serving claims that the decline in diesel sales was the cause, the data shows average CO2 emissions from diesel cars rose from 116.8g/km in 2016 to 117.9g/km in 2017, while CO2 emissions from petrol cars remained flat (-0.1g/km).

Manufacturers have long claimed that selling diesel cars is necessary to meet their CO2 emissions reduction targets. But T&E’s car CO2 report shows the carbon impact of the declining diesel sales – which have fallen to 45% of new registrations as a result of the industry-wide Dieselgate scandal – is more than offset by the rising sales of much lower-carbon, alternatively fuelled vehicles. Meanwhile, the CO2 gap between the average new diesel car (121.6g/km) and petrol (117.9g/km) is declining, according to the EEA.

The T&E report also finds carmakers are delaying upgrades of new models and the launch of new electric cars until 2019 – helping them maximise profits on their current models while ensuring they achieve their CO2 targets for 2020/1.

T&E’s clean vehicles director, Greg Archer, said: ‘The increase in new car CO2 emissions arises from manufacturers actively pushing sales of more powerful, bigger diesels on which they earn higher margins. With a rush of both more fuel efficient and plug-in models planned for launch in 2019, there will be sharp falls in new car CO2 emissions in the period 2019-22. Combined with the huge windfall earned by carmakers through manipulating tests, this ensures almost all companies remain on track to achieve their 2020/1 targets. This new data from the EU environment agency disproves carmakers’ tale that falling diesel sales are to blame.’

Carmakers have gained around 21g/km through abusing loopholes in car testing since the regulation was finalised in 2008 – causing the gap between test and real-world performance to leap from 17% to 42%. T&E’s new analysis, End the Cheating, shows that manufacturers are also planning to halve the stringency of proposed CO2 targets for 2025 by manipulating the switch over to the new WLTP test.

Manufacturers employ various tactics including declaring high CO2 emissions values using the new WLTP test to inflate the emissions in 2021 and produce a high baseline from which the Commission’s proposed 15% target will be calculated. They are also fitting technology to cars like cylinder deactivation that is expected to achieve much bigger savings on the road than during the laboratory test.

Greg Archer added: ‘Carmakers are reusing their old tricks to manipulate the post-2020 targets that could weaken the regulation by half. Member states and the European Parliament must amend the Commission’s inadequate proposal to ensure it is not possible to weaken the regulation by artificially raising CO2 emissions in 2021 using the new WLTP test while using the old NEDC version to measure compliance against the existing regulation.’

T&E has proposed using fuel consumption meters fitted to new cars, or real-world tests, to measure the average gap between test and real-world performance for each company in 2021 and to ensure this gap is not allowed to grow after this.