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UK motorists could save

UK car manufacturers and dealers must do more to publicise the CO2 emissions of the vehicles they sell, a leading environmental body has demanded as the British Motor Show starts.

A wide-ranging review of the passenger car market over the past four decades by independent environmental organisation the Energy Saving Trust has found that car buyers are making “poor choices, both economically and environmentally” when it comes to buying new cars – despite good incentives to choose low CO2 vehicles and a wider range of vehicle models available.

And it points to a “market failure”, citing “the current market structure, where more desirable cars within vehicle model ranges tend to have higher CO2 emissions and lack of awareness and advice which makes carbon dioxide-saving information clearer”.

The findings of the report – Driven – just launched, are backed up by consumer research, commissioned by the Energy Saving Trust, which shows that nearly three-quarters of UK drivers (74 per cent) do not know how much carbon dioxide their car emits. Yet when buying a car nine in ten people (89 per cent) want environmental features brought to their attention.

The survey of 1511 UK drivers found that nearly half (48 per cent) are considering replacing their car in the next year. And if everyone who buys a new car chooses the greenest car in its class – e.g. supermini/MPV – a typical motorist could save £375 a year in fuel costs, or nearly £1bn for all UK motorists. This does not include savings in terms of lower vehicle purchase costs and reduced vehicle excise duty and insurance.

According to Energy Saving Trust Chief Executive Philip Sellwood, car manufacturers, dealers and drivers all have a vital role to play.

He said: “The bottom line is that, at the moment, the car market is failing: there is no good reason why at a time of rising fuel prices and higher vehicle excise duties for higher CO2 vehicles, people are continuing to buy inefficient cars. It’s not good for the environment or the pockets of customers.

“While car manufacturers are starting to place CO2 information more prominently in their advertising, this is only helpful up to a certain point. For many years, manufacturers have marketed the higher-carbon vehicles within a vehicle range as better quality, more expensive, faster and even more desirable, influencing consumers to make irrational choices with regard to fuel and running costs. Dealers are making inroads by displaying information on the cost implications of choosing greener cars more prominently. However, more still needs to be done to help educate drivers earlier on in the decision making process.”

He added: “It is difficult for consumers to understand the meaning of CO2 information without comparison to other vehicles in their class.”

According to Energy Saving Trust figures, new vehicles registered in the UK in 2007 produce annual emissions of 6.5 million tonnes of carbon dioxide but the organisation predicts this could be reduced by 25 per cent over the next five years through encouraging the purchase of cars with lower emissions.

Sellwood added: “Our research shows that while consumers want to know about environmental features, at present the vast majority do not know the basics like how much CO2 their car emits.

“The Energy Saving Trust wants to help the public make better choices. We are not telling everybody to go out and buy a hybrid or electric car but we are urging motorists to buy the greenest car in its class.”

The Energy Saving Trust’s consumer research also found that:

•    Fifty per cent say they would drive more efficiently if they had more information as to how it would save money and carbon dioxide emissions.

•    More than half (51 per cent) of those shown a list of popular cars had no idea which was greenest.

•    When looking at car advertisements and asked what grabs their attention, fuel efficiency came third (18 per cent), behind style and look (23 per cent), and price (24 per cent).

•    More than half (51 per cent) say they take the car to travel distances of less than one mile, with this figure rising to seven in ten (71 per cent) for a journey of fewer than one-and-a-half miles. And almost two thirds (63 per cent) say bad weather was a reason for taking the car rather than walking a short distance.

Sellwood commented: “It is also true that consumers need to play their part. People must think twice about taking the car to the end of the road for a pint of milk if it’s raining. It’s expensive in every respect.”

In the UK, the road transport sector produces around a quarter of CO2 emissions, with nearly 60 per cent coming from passenger cars.

While emissions from most sectors have been decreasing, transport emissions have increased significantly since the 1970s. Since 1970, sales of vehicles in the UK have risen from one million to more than 2.4 million per year, with people keeping their cars for between three and five years before replacing them.

The report finds that while in most consumer markets, products become more efficient and smaller as they evolve over time, this has not happened with cars. In fact, the opposite is true: cars are now larger, more powerful and heavier than they have ever been. Studies show that vehicle weight has increased by between 30 and 40 per cent since the 1970s.

The report also considers “smarter driving” and finds that drivers can save 15 per cent on running costs if they follow efficient driving techniques. And the Energy Saving Trust calculates that if every driver in the UK drove their cars smarter, motorists could save nearly £6bn per year in fuel costs.

To find out the greenest cars in class, see the Green-Car-Guide e-Book at