Make / Model Search

News - Market Insight - Market Insight 2014

Car buyer habits keep nation’s CO2 levels high

Small player: Less than 300 sales of plug-in electric cars were recorded in Australia last year, with the Nissan Leaf topping the segment with 188 new registrations.

Environment takes back seat as Aussie new-car buyers stick to bigger, thirstier cars


Click to see larger images

2 Jun 2014

THE lack of government regulations and policies in Australia influencing new-car buyers to make ‘green’ vehicle choices has put the onus back on car companies and consumers to drive down carbon emissions, which are much higher here than in heavily regulated markets such as Europe and the UK.

But just as there is no imperative for car companies operating in Australia to offer environmentally friendly cars in the marketplace, Australian consumers are, by and large, continuing to make decisions that will keep our national CO2 levels at the top end compared to other western markets.

The love affair with the large sedan might be well and truly over, and a major reason behind General Motors, Ford and Toyota all closing their Australian factories over the next two-to-three years, however one-tonne utilities and larger-sized SUVs are booming, sales of light cars are on a downward trend, engine power is a prime motivator, petrol is preferred over diesel, and automatic is the clear transmission of choice.

While there were ripples of applause with the release last week of Australia’s 2013 national average CO2 ratings – passenger cars are now at 182 grams per kilometre and light commercials have fallen to 236g/km – the figures are a long distance from Europe (cars: 127g/LCVs: 173g) and the UK (cars: 128g/LCVs: 186g).

In its report, the Australian National Transport Commission (NTC) included a case study comparing the Australian and UK new-vehicle markets, which highlighted the major impact of consumer choice in the overall CO2 figure.

It also emphasises how vastly different Australian car buyers are to our British counterparts, with a marked preference here for bigger, heavier, more powerful, less efficient and higher-polluting vehicles.

Some of the key points in the NTC study were that, on average, passenger vehicles sold in Australia weighed 12 per cent more than those in the UK in 2012 (2077kg mass compared to 1858kg), while engine size and power were also significantly greater – 35 per cent and 37 per cent respectively.

On average, these Australian-market cars had an engine size of 2256cc compared to 1673cc in the UK, while engine power was 127kW compared to 93kW in Australia’ s favour.

Among light commercials, Australia was also streets ahead in terms of vehicle mass (2899kg v 1823kg), engine size (2885cc v 2001cc) and power (131kW v 84kW).

In 2013, 26.6 per cent of passenger cars sold in Australia were in the highest CO2 category (over 200g/km) compared to just 2.1 per cent in the UK.

The vast majority of Australian passenger car sales last year – 66.8 per cent – were in the second-highest category (131-200g/km) compared to 34.6 per cent in the UK, leaving only 6.0 per cent in the 96-130g/km class and 0.5 per cent below 95g/km.

There is more choice in the UK, but these two lowest categories nonetheless accounted for 60 and 3.3 per cent respectively.

British consumers were far more likely to purchase a light-sized car last year than Australians (39.4 versus 14.5 per cent), whereas the reverse was true with SUVs (31.7 per cent here compared to 11.0 in the UK).

Australians have a huge preference for one-tonne utes, especially 4x4s, compared to the Brits who favour vans, which typically have lower average CO2.

Only 3.9 per cent of British LCV sales last year went to 4x4 pick-up/cab-chassis vehicles, compared to 68.5 per cent in Australia. With vans, however, the proportion of sales in Australia for sub-2.5t and 2.5-3.5t vans was 1.5 and 7.7 per cent respectively, compared to 39.8 and 42.2 per cent in the UK.

Choice of fuel type also affects the CO2 average, with diesel typically emitting 10 to 20 per cent less CO2 than petrol equivalents. In Australia, the latest figures show that diesel figured in 14.5 per cent of passenger car sales last year, while in the UK the figure was 49.8 per cent.

The UK also sold a slightly higher proportion of alternatively fuelled vehicles last year compared to Australia, but the overall proportions are tiny (1.4 v 1.3 per cent).

It is worth noting that the UK had 12 ‘zero-emissions’ full-electric vehicles on sale last year, compared to one in Australia – the Nissan Leaf. (The Holden Volt is a plug-in hybrid, while Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV EV was officially on sale but the final cars were registered in December 2012.) Petrol and diesel fuel prices are also significantly lower (around 50 per cent) in Australia – the UK has higher fuel taxes – and the relatively low price of fuel here provides little incentive to purchase more fuel-efficient, and therefore lower-emitting, vehicles.

Petrol fuel quality is also higher in the UK, which has moved to sulphur-free fuels.

As the NTC highlights in its report, the high sulphur content in Australian petrol may inhibit the introduction of new pollution-control vehicle technologies and lower CO2-emitting vehicles.

Diesel sulphur content is, on the other hand, now similar between the two countries and no longer considered a barrier for the latest hi-tech oil-burning engines to be sold here.

According to the NTC (quoting 2014 data), cars with a conventional automatic transmission generally use around 10 per cent more fuel than manuals, while cars with a continuously variable transmission are about five per cent thirstier.

Yet Australians overwhelmingly favour an automatic, with 83 per cent of all passenger car sales coming with this transmission compared to 25 per cent in the UK (2012 figures).

With LCVs, the figure was still 38 per cent in favour of autos Down Under, compared to just four per cent in Britain.

As a member of the EU, Britain is under European-wide CO2 targets for passenger cars of 130g/km by 2015 and 95g/km by 2020. The LCV targets are 175g/km by 2017 and 147g/km by the end of the decade.

Australia has no regulations for CO2 standards or targets for new vehicles, nor does it have national purchasing incentives for light vehicles.

On the latter, the UK government has introduced a plug-in-car grant that provides 25 per cent off the list price (up to £5000) for cars with CO2 of 75g/km or less, while a plug-in-van grant provides a 20 per cent reduction in price (up to £8000).

Vehicle excise duties in the UK are also linked to CO2 categories. Again, Australia has no such system in place, although the ACT provides a stamp duty discount for low-emission vehicles and Victoria offers a registration discount for hybrid cars.

The Road to Recovery podcast series

Read more

Click to share

Click below to follow us on
Facebook  Twitter  Instagram

Market Insight articles

Motor industry news

GoAutoNews is Australia’s number one automotive industry journal covering the latest news, future and new model releases, market trends, industry personnel movements, and international events.

Catch up on all of the latest industry news with this week's edition of GoAutoNews
Click here