Automobiles: Trend reversal in new vehicle emissions in the EU

In 2017, fleet emissions of new vehicles registered in the EU rose for the first time in ten years. Average carbon emissions of new vehicles stood at 118.1 g/km compared with 117.8 g/km in the previous year. Changes in buyer behaviour, away from diesel cars to popular SUVs, have reversed the long-term trend of falling carbon emissions. The share of new diesel vehicles, whose carbon emissions are lower than that of their petrol-fuelled counterparts, continued to fall in 2017. Diesel vehicles accounted for 44.4 % of new vehicles in 2017, down from 49.5 % in 2016 and 51.6 % in 2015, meaning that there has been an acceleration in the trend away from diesel technology. In addition, consumers are showing an ever-greater preference for SUVs, which have relatively high carbon emissions. Four-wheel drive SUVs emit a higher level of carbon emissions compared to conventional vehicles. This category of vehicle continues to rise in popularity. Correspondingly, SUVs accounted for 14.8 % of new vehicles in 2017, up from 14.0 % in 2016 and 13.0 % in 2015. Carbon emissions in the SUV segment fell slightly to 133 g/km year on year due to the introduction of smaller SUV models as well as the first SUVs with hybrid technology. However, this figure is still significantly higher than the overall average of 118.1 g/km. Nevertheless, the high numbers of SUV sales mean that average fleet emissions in the EU have actually increased.

The rise in fleet emissions is forcing automotive manufacturers to act.  We consider the ongoing electrification of vehicle fleets to be an essential step towards meeting carbon emission targets by 2021 and in subsequent years (2025, 2030). The number of available electric vehicle models from German manufacturers is to be more than tripled to over 100 by 2020. However, the share of fully electric vehicles is not likely to increase from its current niche level without significant government investment. Besides a rising share of fully electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids are likely to play a primary role in meeting carbon emissions targets.

The disadvantages of fully electric vehicles compared to petrol- and diesel-powered vehicles include insufficient charging infrastructure, lack of range and relatively high acquisition costs. Only significant government subsidies would be able to help this technology make a breakthrough (see Norway). On the other hand, manufacturers such as Toyota are showing how to gain significant market shares with the help of a broad range of hybrid and plug-in hybrid models and to reduce carbon emissions. In our opinion, the (plug-in) hybrid technology will be the best alternative to diesel vehicles in the next few years. Pairing petrol engines with the additional performance and torque of an electric drive train allows manufacturers to meet current customer requirements regarding comfort and acceleration at an acceptable price while ensuring that ranges remain high; at the same time, this also cuts carbon emissions.



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