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

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

Sheridan Maine: Accounts Assistant

£25,000 - £30,000: Sheridan Maine: Are you looking for a fantastic opportunity...

Neil Pavier: Commercial Analyst

£50,000 - £55,000: Neil Pavier: Are you a professionally qualified commercial ...

Loren Hughes: Financial Accountant

£45,000 - £55,000: Loren Hughes: Are you looking for a new opportunity that wi...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer - Professional Services Firm - Oxford

£21000 - £24000 per annum + 21 days holidays: Ashdown Group: Technical Support...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

I might be an MP, but that doesn't stop me fighting sexism with my breasts

Björt Ólafsdóttir
 

Daily catch-up: opening round in the election contest of the YouTube videos

John Rentoul
No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor