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A nation of fuel guzzlers

AUSTRALIAN cars are pumping out almost 50 per cent more carbon dioxide than those in Europe, a damning report released today shows.

The report by the National Transport Commission (NTC) shows the average carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions of new Australian passenger cars was 198g/km in 2011, compared with just 136.1g/km in Europe - a 45 per cent difference.

The Australian figures excludes light commercial vehicles (a popular segment that includes utes and vans), which emitted 245g/km in 2011; bringing the combined Australian fleet average to 206.6g/km.

The report highlighted a number of reasons Australia lags Europe in reducing car-related emissions:

  • Europe's higher taxes on petrol prices, but lower taxes on diesel; this is designed to get consumers driving more fuel-efficient vehicles;
  • Official carbon dioxide targets for manufacturers. Australia has none;
  • Excise duties that encourage motorists to choose low-emission vehicles - and penalise those who don't;
  • Financial incentives to consumers for buying low-emissions cars;
  • Greater information on vehicle emissions and running costs, both on the vehicles and in print advertising.

The report also found that government agencies typically drove less fuel-efficient cars than the general public.

The average emissions of the government new-car fleet in 2011 were 217g/km, while private users' average emissions were 198g/km.

Although he did not directly call for any government action, NTC Commissioner Frank Muller said it was important for all new car buyers, including governments, to take CO2 emissions into account when buying a new car.

"Industry, consumers and governments all have an important role to play in helping Australia reduce its emissions," Muller says.

"If Australians had made greener purchasing decisions in 2011, carbon emissions from new cars and light commercial vehicles could have been cut by over a third."

Not surprisingly the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI), which represents the car industry in Australia, defends the report's findings and put the onus on consumers to cut emissions.

"The average new car sold in Australia is now at least 20 per cent more efficient than it was in 2000," says FCAI chief Ian Chalmers. "It is the preferences of Australian car buyers, however, that ultimately will determine the fleet's CO2 profile."

Chalmers is calling for a number of changes to help cut emissions, but none of the successful Europe measures.

"A comprehensive strategy to reduce emissions from vehicles is needed - which includes vehicle maintenance, removing inefficient vehicles from the fleet, driver behaviour, road congestion and public transport," he says.

Just to underline how far Australia has to go, Australia's greenest brand, Suzuki, would not even make the top 20 greenest brands in Europe.

Suzuki Australia recorded an average of 161g /km across its fleet of predominately small cars, while in Europe Audi, which is ranked 20th on the continent, managed 146g/km despite having several high-powered V8 and V10 powered cars in its range.

Fiat is Europe's greenest brand with an average of 118.2g/km; a 36 per cent difference.

The report is a major blow to the federal government's environmental credentials and its highly publicised carbon tax.

According to the NTC findings governments around Australia are the worst offenders when it comes to picking green vehicles; behind private and business buyers.

It was not good reading for Australian-made cars either. Despite a 6.9 per cent reduction, thanks largely to the introduction of the Holden Cruze and diesel-powered Ford Territory, locally-made cars still average 230g/km.

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