A strategy by automakers to downsize engines and reduce weight to help meet Europe's stricter CO2 emissions targets is paying dividends, official data published today showed.
New cars sold in the 28 European Union countries in 2015 emitted an average 119.6 grams of CO2 per km, about 10 g/km – or 8 percent – below the target set by EU lawmakers.
This also represents a 3 percent reduction over the previous year, according to provisional figures from the European Environment Agency (EEA).
Average emissions for gasoline engines, which accounted for 45 percent of the fleet, were 122.6 g/km. Emissions from diesels, which accounted for 52 percent of new cars sold, were 119.2 g/km.
The country with the most fuel efficient cars remained the Netherlands, which registered average CO2 emissions of 101.2 g/km per new car sold. Unsurprisingly it also had the highest share of plug-in hybrids and battery electric cars at 12 percent versus just 1.3 percent for the EU overall.
Despite adding more content and a continued trend toward more crossovers and SUVs at the cost of lighter sedans, hatchbacks and wagons, the EEA said average vehicle mass remained broadly flat at 1,381 kg.
A full breakdown that will detail whether each individual carmaker reached its target is expected to be released in October.
EU policymakers are reviewing proposals by the European Commission to tighten laws on air quality, emission limits and new vehicle authorizations following the Volkswagen emissions scandal.
The EU’s targets require automakers to limit average CO2 emissions to 130g/km by 2015, and 95g by 2021 as part of efforts to slow climate change.
"If current trends continue, we will reach the target of 95 grams," Cinzia Pastorello of the EEA said.
She cautioned, however, that the data was based on outdated official tests that recorded emissions around 30 to 40 percent lower than those in real-world driving conditions. The European Commission is in the process of trying to enforce stricter testing.
The green transport group Transport & Environment (T&E) said the reduction in emissions was largely achieved by automakers gaming outdated tests, which take place in laboratories and not under real driving conditions.
"Most of the measured improvement is being delivered through manipulating tests, not real-world reductions," said Greg Archer, T&E's clean vehicles director, in a statement. "The chasm between the reported data and reality makes today’s announcement worthless.
"Without a new test conducted by genuinely independent testing bodies, drivers will continue to be misled while the planet warms."
New-car sales in the EU rose 9 percent last year to 13.7 million, in the second year of more positive figures for carmakers following a slump in sales during the recession from a peak of 15.5 million in 2007.
Although hybrid and electric vehicles account for just 1.3 percent of all new EU car sales, EEA data shows, the number of pure battery-electric vehicles registered last year increased by 50 percent to 57,000, compared to a year earlier.
The defeat device software Volkswagen used to cheat on emissions test was to conceal toxic NOx emitted by diesel vehicles.
CO2 emissions are linked to a car's fuel economy. Although not illegal, altering CO2 emissions in cars can be achieved via a variety of engineering techniques to reduce fuel consumption such as switching off air conditioning, pumping up tire pressure or improving aerodynamics by removing mirrors and taping up doors.
Reuters contributed to this report