Sean O'Grady: The industry gets the blame. But consumers keep buying bigger cars


It's very easy to blame the car lobby for trying to put the brakes on environmental progress but there is every reason for Europe's consumers to indulge in a little soul-searching too.

It is true that every time the European Commission has proposed new measures to tighten up on emissions, on safety, and on recycling, the powerful motor industry lobby has screeched with anguish, as if the Commission had done something as rash as a handbrake turn on an autobahn. Yet, on every occasion, the car makers have moved up a gear and delivered - cleaner, more efficient, safer and better performing vehicles.

They've coped with the abolition of leaded fuel; with compulsory catalytic converters; and with the successive Euro I/II/III/IV rules on engine design. The engineers and designers should actually be congratulated on that.

The improvement is remarkable: Ford say their Focus emits 26 per cent less carbon dioxide than the equivalent Escort model they made a decade ago. At the other end of the market, a Mercedes-Benz CL Coupe with a big V8 engine is 15 per cent greener now than it was five years ago. The manufacturers are obliged to take their green obligations seriously - even if they rarely welcome them.

We consumers, however, are free to choose. And we choose the wrong kinds of cars. Taking the UK's record, if the pattern of our car buying had remained as it was in 1997 the average CO2 emissions for new cars would probably have met even the latest EU target of 130g/km. Instead of a drop of about a quarter, the average carbon dioxide emissions of new cars sold only fell by 12 per cent, to 167g/km in 2006.

That discrepancy is accounted for by our changing tastes: we now buy relatively fewer small hatches and saloons, and more heavy SUVs and people carriers. Our prosperity means we can afford to buy bigger, better cars with bigger engines, and we do. So when a 1.8 litre Vectra might once have sufficed for an aspirational family, now they can afford a 3 litre BMW.

Even though those individual models are much more green than their predecessors, our relentless demand for upmarket and larger transport has partially negated the progress the car makers have made. Yet small cars are better engineered than ever before, and easily surpass even the new "tough" EU target.

Some small diesel Fords, Citroens and Fiats will better 120g/kg, with commensurate fuel economy, and still top 100mph. But will we trade down? EU Commissioners aren't the only ones who like their transport to be as stylish, comfortable and large as possible.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Deputy Head of Science

£36000 - £60000 per annum: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client are a we...

IT Teacher

£22000 - £32000 per annum + TLR: Randstad Education Southampton: Our client is...

Database Administrator

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: The role could involve w...

Science Teacher

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Qualified secondary s...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Countries that have relaxed sex-worker laws have seen a fall in Aids infections but no increase in street-based prostitution  

As an ex prostitute, I urge all the political parties to commit to the Sex Buyer Law

A still from Central African Republic: Descent into Chaos  

Rory Peck Awards 2014 News Finalist: Pacôme Pabandji

Independent Voices
Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

A new American serial killer?

Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

Want to change the world? Just sign here

The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?
Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals

'You need me, I don’t need you'

Ed Sheeran hits back after being labelled too boring to headline festivals
How to Get Away with Murder: Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama

How to Get Away with Murder

Shonda Rhimes reinvents the legal drama
A cup of tea is every worker's right

Hard to swallow

Three hospitals in Leicester have banned their staff from drinking tea and coffee in public areas. Christopher Hirst explains why he thinks that a cuppa is every worker's right
Which animals are nearly extinct?

Which animals are nearly extinct?

Conservationists in Kenya are in mourning after the death of a white northern rhino, which has left the species with a single male. These are the other species on the brink
12 best children's shoes

Perfect for leaf-kicking: 12 best children's shoes

Find footwear perfect to keep kids' feet protected this autumn
Anderlecht vs Arsenal: Gunners' ray of light Aaron Ramsey shines again

Arsenal’s ray of light ready to shine again

Aaron Ramsey’s injury record has prompted a club investigation. For now, the midfielder is just happy to be fit to face Anderlecht in the Champions League
Comment: David Moyes' show of sensitivity thrown back in his face by former Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson

Moyes’ show of sensitivity thrown back in his face... by Ferguson

Manchester United legend tramples on successor who resisted criticising his inheritance
Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Lonely Planet’s Best in Travel 2015

UK city beats Vienna, Paris and New York to be ranked seventh in world’s best tourist destinations - but it's not London