THE CO2 emissions from vehicle exhausts rose for the first time in two decades last year as car buyers shunned diesel engines.
The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) said realistic policies from the government to support the transition to a low carbon future were needed.
It warned that the current anti-diesel agenda and slow take-up of electric vehicles could mean the industry misses its next round of CO2 targets in 2021.
Although new vehicles were becoming more efficient, the SMMT’s latest report confirmed that the fleet average CO2 of newly registered cars rose for the first time on record in 2017.
New Car CO2 2018: Driving the Transition to a Low Carbon Future, reveals that carbon tailpipe emissions rose by 0.8% last year to 121.0g/km. New and updated models in 2017 emitted, on average, 12.6% less CO2 than those they replaced.
This was not enough to offset a -17.1% decline in new diesel registrations as confusion over government policy caused buyers to hold back.
Because diesel cars typically consume less fuel than petrol equivalents they emit, on average, 15-20% less CO2, and about half last year’s overall CO2 rise was attributable to this decline in diesel demand, according to the report.
Meanwhile, a substantial fall in registrations of smaller cars also had a significant effect, as falling consumer confidence hit the lower end of the market.
The increase in the fleet average new car CO2 figure follows 19 years of reductions thanks to massive investment in new, advanced engine, fuel and battery technology, as well as the use of lightweight materials such as aluminium and composites.
Ongoing improvements mean average CO2 is still a third lower than in 2000. The light commercial vehicle sector, 96% of which is powered by diesel, has also shown impressive progress – with new vans last year reducing CO2 by -4.8% – to a new low of 165.4g/km.
More than a fifth of new car models now available are zero emission capable, yet they make up just 5% of sales. For pure battery-powered vehicles, take up is even lower (0.5%). Incentives have been scaled back and new tax measures imposed on hybrid and plug-in hybrid cars are undermining consumer and industry ambition for these technologies.
SMMT chief executive Mike Hawes, said:
“The industry shares government’s vision of a low carbon future and is investing to get us there – but we can’t do it overnight; nor can we do it alone. The anti-diesel agenda has set back progress on climate change, while electric vehicle demand remains disappointingly low amid consumer concerns around charging infrastructure availability and affordability.”
He called for a consistent approach to incentives and tax, and greater investment in charging infrastructure.
CO2 emissions are used to measure company car tax bands. Diesel vehicles will be subject to a 4% surcharge from April 2018.