Europe's sharp decline in car CO2 gives false hope

Luca Ciferri is a reporter for Automotive News
The volume-weighted average carbon dioxide emissions from new cars sold in 21 European countries fell by a single-year record of 8 grams per kilometer to 145.9g/km in 2009.

Average CO2 emissions have declined almost 20g/km in the last six years, from 165.3 g/km in 2003, reports market researcher JATO Dynamics.

The steady decline seem to indicate automakers in Europe are on track to reach the EU-required level of 130g/km by 2015. They have seven years to reduce combined fleet CO2 output by 16g/km after already cutting 20g/km in six years.

The 130g/km should be an easy goal to reach, right? Wrong.

Last year's reduction was an exception and probably not repeatable. One reason why CO2 fell so far so fast is because of scrapping incentives that rewarded people for buying smaller, cleaner cars.

As the last scrapping programs come to an end in Europe, the model mix is changing, that means reduced sales for small cars and rising sales of models that produce more CO2.

Also, engineers will always tell you that when it comes to reducing emissions, the last grams are the most difficult to get.

Despite these challenges, JATO is confident the EU goal of 130g/km by 2015 is “achievable.”

I am not so sure; however, if JATO's 2010 data shows another significant decline – and not a slight increase – in total CO2, then I will be a lot less pessimistic.