The emissions average for new cars in 2011 was 138g/km. This is a drop of between 5g and 8.5g per year for the last four years, averaging 6.6g per annum. If we keep this up, we will easily surpass the proposed 95g/km European target for 2020. Indeed, maintaining this rate would lead us to 85g/km. 

This is great news. Of course, it has been strongly driven by the impact of the recession and ever-increasing oil prices. However, the focus on CO2 emissions reduction and the impact of government policy have also played a major role. 

Automotive manufacturers are doing their bit to respond to the new European car emission targets. This is being done by the introduction of a wide range of cars onto the market in the United Kingdom with lower emissions, including new hybrids and EVs. If we are to maintain this progress as we pull out of recession, it is critical that we have longer term regulatory targets in place so that manufacturers remain fully aligned to delivering desirable low emissions vehicles. We need to get the 95g/km 2020 target in Europe ratified as soon as possible and start committing to targets for 2025 and 2030.

The take up of EVs in the United Kingdom has been slow over the past year, despite the government’s new £5,000 car grant. But, charging posts for EVs are becoming a common site in our cities, and we are getting to the stage where we know people who own one. So, the coming year may be the start of accelerated uptake.

We are also hearing about “peak cars”. Some behavioural researchers think they are observing the start of a trend where young people are becoming less interested in owning cars; we may be reaching a maximum “peak” in the number of cars in the United Kingdom.

Changing trends, interests and means of interconnectivity could be leading to the next generation where cars are not owned but picked via car club memberships. If this is happening, whether and when it starts to affect the developing economies in Asia and how the car industry responds will be some of the exciting things to watch out for (personally, I think the jury is still out as to whether this is a real trend). 

It’s great to see significant progress on lower car emissions. The combination of EV sales, European emissions targets and peak cars will further contribute to such progress.

*Professor Julia King is Vice-Chancellor of Aston University, United Kingdom and is a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Automotive