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NTC moves CO2 emissions goalposts

Small but mighty: Of the 10 best-selling vehicles last year, the Kia Cerato (left) proved the greenest while the Toyota LandCruiser (below) had the highest emissions average.

The NTC’s annual Carbon Dioxide Emissions Intensity report has a new methodology

17 Aug 2021

THE National Transport Commission (NTC) has released its annual Carbon Dioxide Emissions Intensity for New Australian Light Vehicles report and on the surface at least, Australia’s yearly emissions seem to have taken a backwards step.


Focusing purely on the raw data, Australia’s light vehicles CO2 emissions for 2020 look to have relapsed back to 2015-16 levels with an average of 183.1 grampe per km – for reference, the 2019 average was 180.5g/km.


There is more to the story than just sheer numbers however, with the NTC recently changing its methodology to now draw on sales data from industry, registration data from states and territories, and international data.


According to the report, the NTC’s methodology changes have been made in line with the adoption of a new method for calculating carbon dioxide emissions intensity of the light vehicle fleet by the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI). 


“The NTC has relied on the FCAI’s new car sales data since 2009 for this annual report, and a shift by industry to incorporate ‘super credits’ into its data has caused a break in the NTC’s established methodology,” a spokesperson said.


“The 2020 report draws on both sales data from industry, registration data from states and territories and international data to give the most accurate picture possible from the data available.”


Further explanation can be found within the report itself, which stipulates the new methodology “has been designed to align with international approaches, and as such comparisons with earlier NTC reports is more difficult”. 


“This year’s report provides more detailed information on electric vehicles – both battery electric vehicles (BEVs) and plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) – as well as separate graphs and data on hybrid electric vehicles for the first time,” it reads.


Rather than provide a combined average, the new methodology serves up two different figures; one for passenger cars and ‘light’ SUVs (MA) and one for ‘heavy’ SUVs and light commercial vehicles (MC+NA).


Despite emission comparisons with previous years now being trickier, sales figures can still paint a picture. The report reveals a 17 per cent surge in the popularity of BEVs and PHEVs in 2020 (from 5875 in 2019 to 6900 in 2020) and a stark 91.2 per cent increase in hybrid sales (from 30,641 to 58,595).


Expanding the focus somewhat, ‘green’ vehicles (those with emissions intensity no higher than 120g/km) accounted for an indicated 8.4 per cent of all new car sales in 2020, up from 5.7 per cent in 2019.


While electrified and ‘green’ vehicle sales are up across the board, it was government fleets that exhibited the lowest average emissions intensity for passenger cars and light SUVs (134g/km), followed by private buyers (155g/km) and then business buyers (158g/km).


As for heavy SUVs and light commercial vehicles, the emissions intensity was relatively similar for all buyer types, with private buyers having the lowest (216g/km) and business buyers having the highest (220g/km).


However, the report paints an ugly picture of Australia’s transport emissions and vehicle choices compared with Europe.


“Less than half of Australian new passenger car sales had an emissions intensity of 160g/km

or less, whereas over 90 per cent of new European passenger car registrations were below 160g/km,” says the report.


One of the key factors here is the almost overwhelming preference Down Under for heavier vehicles with bigger, gruntier engines paired with automatic transmissions.


“If people who purchased new vehicles in 2020 had chosen the best-in-class for emissions performance, Australia’s average carbon emissions intensity would have dropped by 93 per cent for passenger cars and light SUVs, and by 50 per cent for heavy SUVs and light commercial vehicles,” the report says.


However, some of the comparisons made in the report are questionable, for example pitching the mass-market Hyundai Tucson against the premium-priced Mercedes-Benz EQC electric SUV. Although both are of a similar size, the EQC’s starting price is four times that of the Tucson.


Across both vehicle categories, diesels proved to have the most intense emissions averages – MA: 178g/km, MC+NA: 220g/km – but not by all that much compared to non-hybrid petrols (166g/km and 214g/km).


As a market leader for hybrid sales – as well as overall sales – Toyota was identified as having the lowest average emissions intensity within the MA category (100.2g/km) while Fiat Professional led the way in the MC+NA category with an average of 150.7g/km.


Out of the top 10 best-selling vehicles of 2020, it the Kia Cerato proved the cleanest with an average emissions intensity of 165g/km – still above the market average for Europe – while at the other end of the spectrum, the Toyota LandCruiser had the highest average of 264g/km on the account of its sheer size and 4.5-litre V8 turbo-diesel engine.

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