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

Share

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

Recruitment Genius: Physiotherapist / Sports Therapist

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Physiotherapist / Sports Ther...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive / Advisor

£8 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Sales Executives / Advisors are required...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Operative

£14000 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£70000 - £80000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A long-established, technology rich ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Women are less likely to become scientists and engineers  

International Women's Day: How much could be achieved if we scrapped the idea of 'male' jobs?

Anne Richards
Dame Maggie Smith stars in Downtown Abbey as Countess Violet  

We need to see Maggie Smith and Michael Gambon on stage again

David Lister
Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable