The automobile industry is facing serious problems with the need to reduce CO2 emissions which is difficult to reconcile with the trend to eradicate health threatening diesel particles from the air we all breathe. On the one hand we hear news about pre-announced diesel bans on the long run in countries like the UK and France, car manufacturers are declaring they will drop diesel engines from their offers in the near future, German cities getting green cards to stop old diesels from entering their roads. On the other, the latest air studies show that the decline of diesel engine cars has, for the first time in the last decade, reversed the CO2 emission reduction trend. Basically because CO2 emissions are higher on petrol than on diesel engines.

Last year the average CO2 emitted by new cars registered in Europe (the JATO sourced study considered 23 countries, including Slovenia), increased by 0.3 g/km to 118.1 g/km , compared to 2017. Among the reasons for the trend reverse, unsurprisingly, we have the decline in demand for diesel engines, which slowed down 8%, to 6.8 million cars, bringing the overall share to 44.%, the lowest level since 2003, when Diesel accounted for only 43.4%, and 11.1% less than in 2011. Also in 2017, petrol new car sales accelerated by 11%, with a 3% increase in the share (from 47% to 50%) and at the same time demand for electric, hybrids & Co. improved less significantly (the quota went up from 3 to 5%).

The CO2 emissions increment registered in 2017 was not only due to the diesel sales slump. The growing demand for the car sillouette of the moment is also accountable for the negative emissions record: SUVs contributed to the overall increase of CO2 emissions in the 23 EU markets as they are less fuel efficient (higher weight and unfavourable aerodynamics) than "standard" passenger cars (hatchbacks, sedans, coupes, etc). And despite the fact that within the SUV segment the smaller SUVs are growing in number (which made it possible to lower the segment carbon footprint last year), they still send more CO2 to the atmosphere.

The correlation between the decline in demand for diesel cars and the increase in CO2 emissions was most evident in Europe's largest markets. Diesel demand fell by double-digits in Germany and the UK, and in France and Spain it fell by 5.4% and 8.1% respectively. As a result, average CO2 emissions increased in all of these car markets. Increased regulatory requirements, combined with higher costs for OEMs to make diesels cleaner, have helped cause this reduced demand for diesels and as a consequence increased CO2 emissions. Slovenia is placed exactly at the middle of the CO2 emissions ranking in EU, with an increase of 0,5 g/km (118.4 vs 117.9 in 2017), above the continent´s 0.3 gram overall average increase.

At a brand level, Peugeot, which led the ranking in 2016, fell to second place after its emissions average increased by 2.7 g/km. This was mainly due to its increased presence in the SUV segment, in particular with the successful 3008. Toyota became Europe's cleanest car brand amongst the top 20 best-selling brands, with its emissions average decreasing by 2.7 g/km to 101.2g/km. This can be attributed to increased demand for its hybrid vehicle models, which represented half of all registrations for the brand, with petrol (42%) and diesel (7.5%) cars making up the rest of its registrations. This use of hybrid vehicles by Toyota, and the drivetrain mix of the brand, implies that full hybrids may be the best alternative to diesel vehicles in the short term, as average CO2 emissions are lower, whilst the additional torque and power produced by electric motors when combined with internal combustion engines meet consumer demand at an acceptable consumer price point.

Note: Volume-weighted average CO2 emissions are calculated by multiplying the CO2 emissions rating of each car version by the volumes achieved by that version in a given timescale, totalling this product for all versions, then dividing by the total volume of all versions.

Joaquim Oliveira

Joaquim Oliveira

European Car of the Year Jury Member

May 30, 2018 Columns › Joaquim Oliveira photo: Joaquim Oliviera

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