Car companies have to be seen to be taking action.
Even excluding hybrids, which seem to have carpet-bombed the mass media, the last few months have brought BMWs with regenerative braking, VW with its efficient new 1.4-litre 140 bhp petrol engine and biofuel models from Saab and Ford. And yet the figures tell a different story. An analysis carried out last month by www.cleangreencars.co.uk paints a depressing picture (see table).
Despite all the talk the average CO2 output of cars sold in the UK has dropped by just 0.3% in the last year, to 165.5g/km of CO2. At that rate of improvement, the 2012 target of 130g/km will not be met until 2078.
Only two manufacturers improved by significant amounts – Mini and Toyota. Mini achieved a big improvement by replacing the Chrysler engines with BMW/Peugeot designs while Toyota achieved it by dropping three high-emitters – the MR2, Celica and Previa.
Ford reckons that it can reduce CO2 emissions from petrol engines by 20% by making smaller, turbocharged versions along with electro-hydraulic valves.
What consumers need to see is tangible evidence that manufacturers are delivering on their promises – and soon. At the moment, some buyers seem to think that the only way to save the planet is to buy a hybrid – something especially true of London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, who has made the 186 gpk Lexus GS 450h congestion charge exempt on the grounds that it is environmentally friendly. Friendly compared to what exactly – a Hummer?
In Germany, 30.7% of motorists surveyed said that their next car would “certainly” or “most likely” be a hybrid. There aren’t enough hybrids to allow this, but it shows who is winning the propaganda war.
For those manufacturers still sceptical of hybrids the need is to demonstrate that they can do better with existing engines. Currently, buying a hybrid is the ultimate in point-scoring – EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas has said he will choose a Lexus GS hybrid instead of a German car. He could have a BMW 535d with better CO2 emissions, but that would not have sent the same message.
Whether that message is “eco-warrior” or “bandwagon jumper” depends on your point of view.