The decarbonisation of road transport is a challenge that we need to address together. Europe’s automotive industry has been playing an active role in reducing CO2 emissions and is committed to do more in the future.
According to figures published by the European Environment Agency (EEA) last week, a new passenger car emitted 119.6 grammes of CO2 per kilometre (119.6g CO2/km) on average in 2015. This comes down to a 35.7% decrease in just two decades, based on the 1995 average of 186g CO2/km. Compared with 2014 (123.4g CO2/km), emissions were reduced by 3% within the span of a year.
The fact that this trend is continuing to go down is the direct result of the industry’s long-standing commitment to innovation. Over the past decades, Europe’s vehicle manufacturers have made a significant contribution to driving down CO2 emissions by investing into ever more fuel-efficient vehicles and further developing alternative powertrains. Even when faced with flat or declining sales in crisis years, the EU automobile sector delivered huge environmental improvements. Moreover, CO2 emissions from car production dropped by 27.4% between 2005 and 2014, demonstrating the industry’s commitment to reduce emissions from manufacturing in parallel.
Of course, automakers will sustain their efforts to make sure that CO2 emissions from their vehicles will continue to follow this downward trend. In order to meet tomorrow’s challenges, the European automobile industry and its suppliers spend €41.5 billion on innovation each year. As a result, the average passenger car coming on to the road in 2021 will produce 42% less CO2 per kilometre than a new one bought in 2005. Yet, despite all progress in vehicle technology, we face a fundamental challenge: on the ground new vehicles only make up 5% of Europe’s motor vehicle fleet. At the same time, the average age of cars in the European Union is currently close to 10 years and is rising year-on-year. Evidently, this results in a slow uptake of more efficient vehicles.
Emissions targets which exclusively focus on new vehicles therefore simply fail to address the bulk of vehicles already on the road, which do not feature the latest technology. This means that, even though less CO2 is emitted for every kilometre driven by new cars, emissions from road transport have not decreased as hoped. What this shows is that this challenge cannot be adequately addressed by focussing on new vehicles alone. Therefore, if we are to reduce CO2 emissions from road transport even further in the future, we need a fundamental rethink on how we approach this challenge.
After all, common sense suggests that there are many factors influencing emissions during the use of the vehicle. Europe needs a more ambitious and holistic approach for years to come, because CO2 emissions can be reduced more successfully by drawing on the full spectrum of solutions available. Whether this relates to the vehicle itself, alternative powertrains, biofuels, faster fleet renewal, intelligent transport systems (ITS), improving road infrastructure, or altering driver behaviour. Combined with the industry’s continuous investments in vehicle technology, such measures have the potential to combat CO2 emissions more effectively.
The automobile industry obviously recognises that it must play an important role in driving down emissions, but by definition manufacturers do not have all of the answers to questions about how cars are used. So in order to continue the downward trend reported by the EEA in the future, we need to shift to a ‘whole of society’ approach that goes beyond the vehicle alone. At the same time, it is equally important to bring all relevant stakeholders together that can bring this fundamental rethink about. That is why we welcome the European Commission’s announcement that it will organise a wide stakeholder consultation process once its Communication on the Decarbonisation of Transport has been published later this year.
In the same vein, a few months ago ACEA launched an initiative to seek the views of 53 key stakeholders – all bringing a different expertise to the table – under the title ‘Joining forces to tackle the road transport CO2 challenge’. The aim was simple: let’s listen to each other so that we can better understand the potential of all innovative solutions out there, and how these can be best realised in the most cost-effective way. The findings of these consultations are currently being summarised in a report, due to be published in May. The report will provide a comprehensive overview of the contributions shared by the stakeholders, demonstrating the enormous potential that joining forces could deliver for reducing CO2 emissions. As an industry we are reaching out to all those who are willing to have a constructive dialogue on how we can drive down road transport emissions together, while at the same time ensuring jobs and economic growth in Europe.
Secretary General of ACEA