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New-car CO2 emissions under review

Exhausting: Australia's motor vehicle CO2 emissions targets may become mandatory.

Australia is on the right road to reducing CO2, but are the targets tough enough?

General News logo1 Mar 2010

REDUCING carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from motor vehicles has become one of the most significant issues for the industry in recent years, to the point where it is now heavily influencing government policy and consumer purchasing decisions.

To their credit, most car companies have been quick to respond to the changing environmental landscape – with some leading the way – not just in the development of cleaner conventional and alternative powertrains but in their decisions to import to Australia more CO2-friendy and economical model variants sold overseas.

The question of economy is a vexed one, for in 2005 the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) abandoned its policy of setting a national average fuel consumption target as a measure of improving environmental performance of new vehicles sold here. The target was 6.8L/100km by 2010 – one that clearly would not have been met.

Instead, “to reflect the need to reduce carbon emissions” the FCAI switched to a voluntary CO2 target of 222g/km by 2010 – a figure it has easily achieved with the rising tide of new technology, an influx of hi-tech diesel models (in conjunction with better quality diesel fuel) and changing consumer preferences, not just for greener cars, but smaller ones, too, to the detriment of our local manufacturing industry.

 center imageThe National Average Carbon Emission (NACE) figures – which are simply the average grams of CO2 per kilometre for all new cars, SUVs, utes and vans – show how far our nation has come.

In 2002, Australia’s NACE was 252.4g/km. It was down to 244.7 by 2005 and has continued to fall consistently – but not dramatically – to the point where the 2010 target was reached in 2008 (with 222.4g/km). Last year’s figure was 218.5g/km.

Break that latter figure down and we can see that passenger cars were at 197.5g/km (down from 201.7g/km in 2008), SUVs at 246.3g/km and LCVs at 252.8g/km.

The CO2 average of light-sized cars actually rose last year by 0.19 per cent, although with 158.5g/km this segment has by far the lowest emissions. Small cars are the only others to have an average below 200g/km (182.1g/km), while large cars stand at 253.6g/km.

Other segments of note include medium cars (209.5g/km), upper-large (283.7g/km), sportscars (218.4g/km) and people-movers (246g/km), while the SUVs range from 225g/km for compacts to 292g/km at the large end. Utes range from 248.9g/km for 4x4s (reflecting the uptake in diesels) to 263.9g/km for 4x2s, while vans are at 232.6g/km.

The FCAI is negotiating a new 2015 NACE target with the federal government. This is almost certain to fall below 200g/km for the industry as a whole. It could also shift from a voluntary to mandatory target, and apply these to specific categories.

Based on a continuation of the current trends, and the emergence of new hybrid and electric vehicles, Australia will achieve a sub-200g/km CO2 average with ease.

The question is: how low can we go?By comparison, the European parliament passed legislation in December 2008 requiring all new passenger cars to reach 130g/km by 2015, with 65 per cent of all new cars reaching the target by 2012, 75 per cent by 2013 and 80 per cent by 2014.

Tough individual targets are set for low-volume (sub-10,000 a year) manufacturers, while niche car-makers (10,000 to 300,000) have also been handed an easier target. For the rest, any manufacturer exceeding the target will be heavily fined per additional gram of CO2 emitted, for every car registered across Europe.

Based on Australia’s current 197.5g/km average for passenger cars, and the current rate of decline, our equivalent CO2 average would still be well over 170g/km. With niche EVs, new hybrids and a raft of new smaller cars thrown in, that figure would be lower. But as low as even 150g/km? In the UK, which is still to publish 2009 figures, new cars were down to 158g/km in 2008, after falling 4.2 per cent on 2007.

With light commercials, the European Commission proposed a tough new law in October last year which, if passed, would see vans – which tend to have a longer product-development cycle than cars – set a fleet average target of 175g/km by 2016. On current figures, Australian vans would still be averaging more than 200g/km.

Australia is on the right path, but more significant reductions in CO2 hinge on a range of factors, not least of which will be the level of government incentives for low-carbon cars such as EVs and hybrids. A drastic drop in excise on diesel fuel would also have a substantial impact.

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