Japanese car giant Toyota will be able to use hybrid car sales to offset the emissions of its utes, vans and four-wheel-drives – which are among the biggest emitters on our roads – according to a template for future pollution reduction targets in Australia.
Toyota cruised to victory as it topped the charts in the automotive industry’s inaugural emissions scoreboard – where all brands are ranked from best to worst – in the category for passenger cars and small SUVs.
However, Toyota ranked 19th out of 25 in the segment for utes, vans and four-wheel-drives – which typically have the highest emissions on our roads except for heavy trucks.
Toyota is also the biggest seller of such vehicles in Australia, meaning it is responsible for some of the highest emissions in that particular category.
Hybrid cars use about half as much fuel as regular petrol models because they use an electric motor to move the vehicle from rest up to about 40km/h, before the petrol engine takes over. They don’t need to be plugged in because they charge their onboard battery pack when the car is coasting, driving downhill, or braking.
However, a number of rival car brands – who asked to remain anonymous and were among the two-thirds of brands who missed their targets – claim hybrid technology is not deemed worthy of “super credits” to offset gas guzzlers in emissions schemes in Europe.
Such bonuses should be reserved for plug-in hybrid and pure-electric cars, they claim.
The disquiet arose even though the FCAI’s Australian vehicle emissions guidelines were voluntarily proposed by the car industry – and there are no fines for missing the annual targets.
But some industry insiders – who represented brands that missed their emissions targets – are concerned the voluntary code could eventually become mandatory.
The chief executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), Tony Weber, defended the rollout of hybrid and other technologies as a way of reducing Australia’s vehicle pollution – and said it was appropriate they be used to offset other types of vehicles with higher emissions, because of the types of cars Australians drive.
“Australian car-buying tastes are very different to those in Europe and other countries. We have vast distances to travel, different geography, and different lifestyles, and as a result we have a unique mix of vehicles on our roads,” said Mr Weber.
Under the voluntary vehicle emissions code “any car brand that has a positive result in one vehicle category can use it to offset negative results in another category,” he said.
Mr Weber said the voluntary vehicle emissions code was designed to encourage all car brands to introduce vehicles with lower emissions, but it does not dictate which technology should be used to achieve the reduction targets.
“One thing the car industry shouldn’t be doing, and one thing the government shouldn’t be doing, is favouring one fuel-efficient technology over another,” said Mr Weber.
“All car companies should be working towards the target of lowering vehicle emissions. How they get there, and which technology they use, is up to them. Our emissions reduction targets are technology neutral,” he said.
Mr Weber said the Australian car industry is “trying to be part of the solution” and introduced voluntary emissions targets in the absence of government policy.
“We recognise that vehicle emissions need to come down,” said Mr Weber, adding that motor vehicles are roughly half of all transport emissions in Australia. The remainder is heavy trucks, rail and air transport.
Combined, all forms of transport account for about 20 per cent of total emissions in Australia, while cars, utes, vans and 4WDs account for about 10 per cent of the total.
By comparison, electricity generation (33 per cent) and agriculture (14 per cent) produce more emissions than cars, according to the latest data from the Department of Energy.
“A good target is part of the process of attracting low emissions vehicles, but it needs to be relevant to Australia’s car-buying tastes, lifestyle and geography,” said Mr Weber.
“We’re not going to dictate what types of cars motorists drive. It’s up to customers to decide. We’re confident car makers will respond by delivering fuel-efficient, fit-for-purpose cars Australians want to drive.”
For example, Toyota has already indicated hybrid technology will eventually be rolled out on its utes, vans and four-wheel-drives over the next five years or so. Rival brands Ford, Mitsubishi and Nissan are also reportedly working on hybrid options for their future utes.
Mr Weber said the so-called “super credits” (which are applied on a sliding scale depending how close each brand gets to their targets, and are used in a number of other countries) are “an incentive to bring more advanced technologies to Australian roads more quickly”.
“There should be encouragement within the scheme for vehicles that produce low emission, low CO2 outcomes, regardless of their technology,” said Mr Weber.
He said it was “almost inevitable” a mandatory vehicle emissions code would be introduced by government at some point in the next decade.
“I think it is almost inevitable that a government of some colour in Australia will introduce vehicle emissions targets for this country, because we are one of the very few advanced countries in the world without one,” said Mr Weber.
“You can see community sentiment is changing on this issue and that’s been happening for a long time.”
However, Mr Weber warned, the Australian car industry has a long road ahead when it comes to reducing vehicle emissions.
It’s unlikely Australia will get near the emissions targets in Europe given the different types of vehicles Australians prefer to drive.
“This transition will take time and there will be some ups and downs,” said Mr Weber. “You can’t develop and introduce low emissions vehicles overnight. This process will take time, which is why we have a 2030 target.”
Meanwhile, in a statement, Toyota Australia defended hybrid technology's eligibility for "super credits".
Toyota said it “would support the government adoption” of the car industry’s voluntary emissions reduction targets and the current “super credits” scoring system.
“These credits are designed to encourage the introduction of all types of low or zero-emission electrified vehicles,” the statement said.
“The FCAI has made the decision to include hybrids based on the Australian market. Australia is a very different market to Europe. Australia does not have access to the higher-quality (low-sulphur) fuel in Europe, which plays a vital role in emissions reductions. Our customers often travel long distances and go off-road. Australia does not have Europe’s government incentives (financial and otherwise).”
The Toyota statement said vehicle emissions reductions are a constant focus of the company globally.
“Right now, the most practical way to reduce automotive emissions is to buy a hybrid,” the company said.
“Last year, Toyota delivered a record 54,000 fuel-efficient hybrid vehicles, representing more than 85 per cent of all electrified vehicles sold in Australia.”
Toyota said it will “reduce emissions through the on-going development and introduction of advanced electrified powertrain technologies”.
Toyota is also one of only two automotive brands in Australia that has just commenced hydrogen car fleet trials.
Toyota is running 20 hydrogen cars out of Melbourne and South Korean car maker Hyundai’s hydrogen fleet trial is based in Canberra.