CO2 performance of new passenger cars in Europe

Following a steady decline until 2016, average CO2 emissions from new passenger cars registered in Europe increased between 2017 and 2019. Key reasons include the growth in the sport utility vehicle segment and an increased average mass. In 2019, average CO2 emissions from all new cars reached 122.3 g CO2/km. Although this is below the EU fleet-wide target of 130 g CO2/km set for the period 2015-2019, it is well above the 2021 target of 95 g CO2/km, phased-in in 2020. Most car manufacturers met their individual binding CO2 emission targets for fleets of newly registered passenger cars in 2019.

Published: ‒ 25min read

Emissions from transport account for one quarter of the EU’s greenhouse gas emissions. The European Green Deal calls for a 90% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from transport, compared with 1990 levels, in order for the EU to become climate-neutral by 2050, while also working towards a zero-pollution ambition.

To reduce CO2 emissions in the road transport sector, emission performance standards for new cars were introduced in 2009setting a fleet-wide target of 130 g CO2/km for the period 2015-2019 and 95 g CO2/km for the period 2020-2024, as well as specific CO2 emission targets for each manufacturer (or pool of manufacturers). In 2019, a new Regulationset new fleet-wide targets for 2025 and 2030, namely a 15% reduction from 2021 emission levels by 2025 and a 37.5% reduction by 2030.

After a steady decline between 2010 and 2016, by almost 22 g CO2/km, average emissions from new passenger cars increased in 2017, 2018 and 2019, reaching 122.3 g CO2/km in 2019. Although this remains below the 2015-2019 target of 130 g CO2/km, it is well above the 2020-2024 target of 95 g CO2/km.

There are various reasons for the increase in emissions, for instance the growth in the sport utility vehicle (SUV) segment of the road transport sector. Almost 15.5 million new cars were registered in 2019 in the EU, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom, and about 38% of these were SUVs. SUVs are typically heavier than other cars and have more powerful engines and larger frontal areas – all features that increase fuel consumption. Most new SUVs registered were petrol vehicles, with average emissions of 134 g CO2/km, which is around 13 g CO2/km higher than other new petrol cars. Moreover, the average mass of new conventional cars, excluding SUV, increased by around 22 kg from 2018 to 2019.

The market penetration of electric cars remained low in 2019 and, as in 2018, petrol cars were the most sold passenger vehicles, constituting 59% of all new registrations. Diesel vehicles constituted 31% of new registrations. Sales of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles and battery-electric vehicles did continue to increase, however, reaching about 3.5% in 2019, compared with 2% in 2018. Non-plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, which are exclusively fuelled by conventional fuels, represented around 4% of new registrations. Registrations of electric vehicles, as a percentage of all newly registered cars, were highest in Norway (56%), Iceland (19%), the Netherlands (16%) and Sweden (12%). These countries were also among the few where the average emissions of new cars fell between 2018 and 2019. For more information on the uptake of electric vehicles in the EU, see the EEA indicator TERM34.

According to EU legislation, manufacturers can group together as pools and act jointly to meet CO2 emission standards. Pools or individual manufacturers responsible for fewer than 300,000 newly registered cars may benefit from a derogation.

In 2019, almost all car manufacturers, either individually, or as members of pools or because of derogations, met their annual binding targets for newly registered passenger car fleets in the EU, Iceland, Norway and the United Kingdom. Only four manufacturers, registering less than 13,000 vehicles a year, Automobili Lamborghini SPA, Bentley, Maserati and SsangYong, exceeded their emission targets.

Among the larger manufacturers, Toyota achieved the best CO2 performance, with average specific emissions of 108 g CO2/km, being closest to its 2020 objective. This performance was closely followed by those of Automobile Citroen and Peugeot, with average CO2 emissions of around 110 g CO2/km.

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