From the so-called emissions scandal to concerns over harmful gases impacting air quality, particularly in the UK’s cities and other urban areas, a spotlight has been firmly focussed on cars’ environmental credentials. Such emphasis continues to be welcomed by campaigners, health organisations and indeed the public, with a reported 40,000 premature deaths occurring each year because of illegal nitrogen oxide and particulate matter levels.
Politicians are certainly keen to cut emissions
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is known for his passion for cleaning up the capital’s air, such as through the introduction of the T-Charge that sees older and dirtier vehicles pay a higher entry fee, while the government has announced Clean Air Zones that will be rolled out in cities including Birmingham, Leeds and Derby and other local authorities. What about car manufacturers, though, and are they really doing enough to cut emissions?
Getting older cars off the road
One measure has been the introduction of scrappage schemes, with Inchcape-represented brands such as Audi, BMW, Mercedes, Toyota and Volkswagen included in the growing list. A customer will typically receive a discount of up to several thousand pounds if they trade in their older car for a new hybrid or electric model, or a new petrol or diesel model that meets today’s widely-praised Euro 6 emissions standards.
Part-exchanged diesels that meet Euro 1-to-4 emissions standards usually result in a larger discount, because car manufacturers and the government are keen to see such older, dirtier vehicles scrapped and Euro 6 compliance become the new norm.
Scrappage scheme discounts are typically awarded in addition to the government’s Plug-in Car Grant, meaning significant savings for some motorists who choose electric, plug-in or conventional hybrid cars.
The latest Euro 6 engines are the cleanest in history
Cynics, however, feel that some of the scrappage scheme discounts amount to no more than certain manufacturers would ordinarily agree to discount anyway. Greenpeace argues that even Euro 6 cars, which are the cleanest combustion engine vehicles ever produced, still emit far more harmful substances than they should do. The organisation strongly feels that manufacturers should ditch diesels completely, without delay, and focus on electric cars.
Are the EU’s emissions targets even realistic for manufacturers to meet?
The European Commission has proposed that vehicular CO2 emissions should be mandatorily cut by 30% by 2030, with an initial milestone set in the form of an across-the-board reduction of average car emissions down to 95g/km by 2020/21. Car manufacturers along with automotive bodies like the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) have described the EU’s aims as “unrealistic” and “very aggressive”, a key criticism being that manufacturers wouldn’t have enough time to make design changes. Vehicle manufacturers around the world, from the United States to Australia, typically criticise their governments’ unrealistic aims on the basis that the price of their cars would resultantly increase making them unaffordable, particularly for families.
Manufacturers are constantly increasing the efficiency of their engines
Much more realistic fuel consumption and emissions tests were introduced in September 2017 and although new cars won’t have to meet the even tougher Real Driving Emissions (RDE) ‘Step 2’ criteria until 2021, manufacturers will already be planning for and working towards this important watershed. It will mean that in a few years’ time, new cars coming off production lines will only be permitted to emit 1.5 times the amount of Nitrogen Oxide (NOx) during real-world driving compared to rolling-road laboratory tests, rather than the 2.1 times currently allowed. Mercedes, for example, is already refining its 2-litre, 4-cylinder diesel engine that is codenamed OM 654 so that it will comfortably meet RDE2 requirements.
Manufacturers still widely feel that diesel power remains the answer in meeting or perhaps exceeding the EU’s push for overall CO2 emissions to be reduced to 95g/km within a handful of years, because diesel vehicles emit less carbon dioxide and achieve more impressive fuel economy. The snag is that they also emit greater levels of harmful nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter in comparison with petrol engines.
Software updates and engine downsizing
Since the so-called emissions scandal, the manufacturers involved have worked tirelessly to recall certain models for software updates, in order to make them run more efficiently and emit reduced levels of CO2. Millions of cars across tens of countries have been updated at considerable expense to the respective brands.
Downsizing, too, is an ethos many car manufacturers have increasingly adopted in recent years. Basically, it involves the development of lower-capacity engines such as 3-cylinder 1-litre units as opposed to 1.6-litre engines, for example. Using a turbocharger helps maintain power and responsiveness while keeping CO2 as low and MPG as high as possible. Good examples are the Volkswagen Golf 1.0 TSI and the Audi A5 1.4 TFSI.
Hybrid and electric cars
One of the most obvious ways in which car manufacturers are working passionately in a bid to cut emissions is the development of hybrid, plug-in and electric vehicles.
While it could be argued that many of the PHEVs and EVs foremost in people’s minds are associated with luxury and price tags that reflect such, a number of manufacturers have focussed on producing ultra-low emissions cars aimed at families.
Toyota is a great example, offering a hybrid version of models including the C-HR, Yaris, Auris, RAV4 and, of course, the car which kick-started the green resolution – the Prius. Toyota has reached its electric car sales target three years early, selling over 1.5 million EVs last year. Why not sample the many delights of hybrid motoring yourself at Inchcape Toyota?
MINI has recently introduced a hybrid version of its superb Countryman compact SUV. BMW now boasts an impressive range of hybrid vehicles perfect for business fleets and SMEs, its iPerformance family comprising the 2 Series Active Tourer, 3 Series, 5 Series, 7 Series and X5 SUV, while the all-electric i3 combines prestige with impressive green credentials. Likewise, Mercedes’ eMobility range spans the C-Class, E-Class, S-Class and the marque’s GLE SUV.
Most of these brands have an array of new hybrid and fully electric cars launching throughout 2018-19 and Inchcape will be happy to keep you informed.
It’s clear that both governments and vehicle manufacturers have a balancing act on their hands, and nobody can expect carmakers to operate at a significant loss in the battle against emissions. Technology is rapidly improving but unsurprisingly remains expensive. It’s only a matter of time, though, before hybrid and electric cars become as affordable as petrol and diesel cars have been. Taking in the overall picture, it could be argued that manufacturers haven’t taken emissions seriously enough over the years, but it’s evident that they are now doing so, passionately designing and promoting green vehicles that aren’t a thing of the future but are now very much a reality