A damning report released today by the car industry has exposed just how far behind Australia’s vehicle emissions are compared to world’s best practice – prompting calls for a mandatory Federal Government code and better quality fuels.
In Europe car makers are fined if they don’t meet stringent vehicle fleet average emissions targets, and the policy has been one of the main drivers of the rapid development of electric cars there – even though customer demand is still relatively low.
However, Australia has no such penalties as there are no vehicle fleet average emissions targets mandated by the Federal Government.
In anticipation of a policy change, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) – a lobby group funded by car companies – came up with its own code to gradually reduce emissions over the next decade, from 2020 to 2030.
Although the Australian CO2 targets are arbitrary and voluntary – and dismissed as “easy targets” by critics of the scheme – most brands missed the mark in the passenger-car and small SUV category, and in the separate class for utes, vans and large SUVs.
Data outlining the average vehicle emissions in Australia in 2020 by automotive brand – the first of its type to be published locally – revealed market leader Toyota topped the charts among 39 competitors in the passenger-car class due to its high proportion of hybrid sales.
However, Toyota, whose biggest selling model for the past five years has been the HiLux ute, tanked when compared against the emissions of utes, vans and large SUVs – finishing 19th out of 25 brands listed in that category, behind Jeep and only narrowly ahead of US pick-up company Ram Trucks.
The chart for passenger cars shows only 12 automotive brands out of 39 listed (about 30 per cent) achieved lower emissions than the arbitrary and voluntary target set by the Australian industry for 2020 – 154 grams of CO2 per kilometre.
And only 10 automotive brands achieved lower emissions than the 2021 target of 148 grams of CO2 per kilometre, although they still have the rest of this year to calculate their numbers and sell more fuel-efficient models.
However, the arbitrary and voluntary targets for passenger cars and small SUVs set by the Australian car industry have been dismissed by critics “hardly a target at all” when compared to Europe’s current standard of 95 grams of CO2 per kilometre – a number local car brands hope to get close to nine years from now.
The target set by the Australian automotive industry for passenger cars and small SUVs in 2030 is 100 grams of CO2 per kilometre – which is not even as stringent as what Europe has today.
Despite the “easy targets” most Top 10 brands sold in Australia – such as Mazda, Hyundai, Kia, Ford, Nissan, Mitsubishi and Subaru – ranked worse than the industry average in the passenger-car vehicle emissions charts.
Of the luxury brands, Lexus was comfortably ahead of the industry average emissions for passenger cars and small SUVs – due largely to Toyota’s hybrid system – however rivals Audi, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, and Porsche languished among the big emitters.
Supercar makers Maserati, Ferrari and Lamborghini were among the worst performers in the Australian 2020 passenger-car emissions chart, filling four of the final three positions alongside Chrysler which sells a gas-guzzling V8 sedan.
Australia’s love affair with the great outdoors – and the utes and four-wheel-drives we use as getaway cars – are regarded by the industry as an impediment to tangible vehicle emissions reductions, even against the current “easy targets”.
In the lead-up to the last Federal election in 2019, when the opposition outlined an ambitious plan to have 50 per cent of new vehicles sold to be electric by 2030, it was accused of wanting to “end the weekend” given Australia’s appetite for utes and four-wheel-drives, which had overtaken demand for passenger cars by that point.
However, it would appear Australia has quite the mountain to climb if it is to come close to lowering its average vehicle fleet emissions to get anywhere near Europe’s stringent targets.
It’s a matter of physics that larger and heavier vehicles favoured by Australians use more fuel and produce higher emissions than smaller cars that are popular in Europe.
Eight out of 25 brands beat the 2020 Australian vehicle fleet emissions target in the separate category for utes, vans and large SUVs: 197 grams of CO2 per kilometre.
However, only two out of 25 brands locally – both from Europe, Fiat Vans and Peugeot Vans – got close to the current mandated European figure of 147g/km.
Popular brands such as Mercedes-Benz, Isuzu Ute Australia, Ford, Nissan and Volkswagen fell short of the arbitrary Australian target for utes, vans and large SUVs, but did better than the industry average outcome of 218 grams of CO2 per kilometre.
However, other brands such as Mitsubishi, Hyundai, Ssangyong and Great Wall Motors ranked in the bottom third of the table for utes, vans and large SUVs and reported figures below the 2020 industry average outcome for the category.
Lexus ranked last on the list – behind Chevrolet Pick-Ups – due to the V8-powered Toyota LandCruiser-based four-wheel-drive.
While the inaugural voluntary Australian vehicle emissions table made grim reading for most automotive brands, the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) says the results are “a reflection of the types of vehicles Australians are choosing to drive”, with SUVs and utes now accounting for 70 per cent of sales.
The FCAI says Australian car-buying tastes “need to be considered when comparing Australia’s emissions results with other countries”.
“It is important to acknowledge that (this) marks the start of this journey to 2030,” said Tony Weber, the chief executive of the FCAI.
“It will be a long, challenging road and each of the companies supplying vehicles into the Australian market will move ahead in ways that meet their own specific product development and launch programs,” he said.
A representative for market leader Toyota described Australia's vehicle emissions targets as "very challenging" even though they were voluntarily set by the industry.
"We have a strong commitment to try and achieve them (in future)," said Toyota Australia head of sales and marketing Sean Hanley.
Meanwhile, in an attempt to deflect the poor results, the car industry lobby group took aim at Australia’s poor quality fuel.
While Australia's diesel is equal to world’s best practice with 10 parts per million of sulphur, regular unleaded petrol – which accounts for 75 per cent of fuel sold locally – reportedly ranks 81st in the world as it has up to 150 parts per million of sulphur.
“Australia’s fuel is among the lowest quality in the world,” said Mr Weber. “We urge the Federal Government to accelerate the improvement of fuel quality standards … as this will enable the introduction of more of the fuel-efficient vehicle technologies already on the roads overseas.”
FCAI deputy chair – and managing director of Volkswagen Group Australia –Michael Bartsch, has previously said Australia’s unleaded fuel standards made the country “a dumping ground for older and less efficient vehicles” and a “tip for technology that is no longer acceptable elsewhere”.
In a media statement issued in response to the Australian vehicle emissions report, Mr Bartsch repeated claims Australia’s sub-standard fuel is a roadblock to the importation of the newest petrol engines and the broader rollout of cars with petrol particulate filters.
The Volkswagen executive also took aim at Toyota’s hybrid vehicles: “Even some of the popular hybrids on sale in this country utilise old tech engines that run on Australia’s standard (91 octane “regular” unleaded) petrol with 150 parts per million of sulphur – 15 times worse than global best practice.”
Meanwhile, he said, almost all Volkswagens currently on sale in Australia meet strict Euro 6 standards that will not be mandated locally until 2027, some 13 years after Europe.
Unleaded petrol with 10 parts per million of sulphur is not due to be mandated in Australia until 2027.
The petroleum industry says it would be prohibitively expensive to upgrade Australia’s three remaining oil refineries sooner than this date – and mandating 10ppm unleaded would push up fuel prices out of Singapore.
Instead, the Australian petroleum industry says, it buys 10ppm unleaded at distress prices and blends it with 50ppm premium unleaded which, it claims, can then safely be used in modern engines with petrol particulate filters.
However, the car industry wants certainty around the sulphur content in premium unleaded fuels.
The current minimum standard in Australia for sulphur content is 150ppm for regular unleaded and 50ppm for 95 or 98 octane premium unleaded. The car industry argues its latest engines need 10ppm premium unleaded to remain reliable – and to avoid warranty claims.
“Motorists are being asked to play Russian Roulette with their new cars because the petroleum industry won’t import 10ppm premium unleaded, and can’t tell us what the average sulphur content is on its premium unleaded fuels,” said one car company insider.
While the Australian car industry appears to have given itself a black eye with its inaugural vehicle emissions report, it in fact appears to be a cry for help.
Unless a CO2 reduction target is mandated by the Federal Government in Australia, warned Bartsch, car manufacturers will continue to prioritise other countries for the rollout of electric cars and super-efficient petrol and diesel engines.
“Markets where there are targets to meet – and punitive fines if they don’t – are naturally first in line for zero emissions vehicles,” said Mr Bartsch.
“Such is the reluctance of government to countenance carbon emissions reduction targets, (the industry is) obliged to implement self-regulation.”
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|Passenger car and small SUV emissions in Australia by brand||Average CO2 emissions (grams per 100km) per vehicle sold in Australia in 2020|
|2030 Target in Europe||59|
|2030 Target in Australia||100|
|2021 Target in Europe||95|
|6. Alfa Romeo||138.936|
|2021 Target in Australia||148|
|2020 Industry average outcome in Australia||150|
|2020 Target in Australia||154|
|30. Isuzu Ute||213.361|
|33. Great Wall Motors||220.154|
Source: Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.
|Large SUV, ute and van emissions in Australia by brand||Average CO2 emissions (grams per 100km) per vehicle sold in Australia in 2020|
|2030 Target in Europe||101|
|2021 Target in Europe||147|
|2030 Target in Australia||145|
|1. Fiat Vans||150.726|
|2. Peugeot Vans||153.039|
|5. Renault Vans||169.618|
|8. Land Rover||189.196|
|2021 Target in Australia||191|
|2020 Target in Australia||197|
|10. Isuzu Ute||206.307|
|2020 Industry average outcome in Australia||218|
|15. Great Wall Motors||222.634|
|20. Ram Pick-Ups||235.914|
|24. Chevrolet Pick-Ups||287.000|
Source: Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries.