Our appetite for SUVs and utes is slowing our progress on vehicle emissions.
- shares

Australians might like to think green and care about the environment, but when it comes to cars we are happy to buy big and thirsty SUVs and utes.

The latest vehicle emissions figures, compiled annually by the National Transport Commission, showed there was only a 0.2 per cent reduction in pollution in 2019 versus 2018 – the smallest improvement since reporting began in 2002.

The minor change comes despite an increase in sales of electric cars.

Furthermore, figures show most buyers eschew lower-polluting models in the same vehicle class, instead favouring examples with bigger and thirstier engines.

The National Transport Commission report assesses CO2 emissions intensity of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles in Australia, based on sales data collected from the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI).

The average CO2 emissions of all new cars sold in 2019 was 180.5g/km, well behind Japan (114.6g/km), Europe (120.4g/km) and the USA (145.8g/km).

The report says Australia’s result is largely due to the increased popularity of utes and SUVs. Indeed, utes, medium SUVs, and large SUVs now represent the three largest CO2 contributing vehicle segments.

By comparison, in 2011, the top three segments were small cars, large SUVs and utes.

The data also suggests best-in-class CO2 emitters (the models that produce the least emissions in their segment) are not necessarily a high priority for new-car buyers.

The report calculates Australia could reduce its new-car CO2 emissions by 63 per cent if buyers simply chose vehicles with best-in-class emissions. However, some of those vehicles are significantly dearer and don't suit the needs of all motorists.

The small car category – which includes the Toyota Corolla, Hyundai i30, Kia Cerato and Mazda3, all of which are in the top 10 – has pure electric and hybrid options.

Top-selling Toyota HiLux, Ford Ranger and Mitsubishi Triton utes produce roughly a third more CO2 than the best-in-class Nissan Navara.

The Toyota RAV4 and Mazda CX-5 SUVs also produce considerably more CO2 than their best-in-class emitter, the Mitsubishi Outlander, and the Mitsubishi ASX generates more emissions than the Mini Countryman.

The 0.2 per cent decrease in CO2 emissions in 2019 comes despite a 149 per cent increase in year-on-year sales of electric cars – with 5875 sold last compared to just 2357 in 2018.

This brought the tally of electric cars on Australia roads at the end of 2019 to approximately 14,500, the report said.

More than half of the 5875 electric cars sold in 2019 were Tesla models (according to state registration data), meaning the US electric vehicle specialist sold more electric cars in Australia than every other brand combined.