Kent Barker looks at the cars most responsible for greenhouse gasses and particulates, and discovers that leaving the EU means manufacturers may have to take gas-guzzlers off the forecourt. 

Are you thinking of purchasing a new car? Perhaps trading in that dirty old diesel you were conned into buying a decade or so ago, when everyone said diesels were ‘green’. So you want to save the planet but don’t have unlimited money to spend and the choice is probably  between what you can afford and what is environmentally friendly.

PICTURE: Dave Young

Obviously all electric is the way to go, isn’t it? 

Well, yes and no. The metals used to build the electric car’s lithium-ion batteries are mined in just a handful of countries, often using far from environmentally sound methods. The analysts Bloomberg recently pointed out that if a factory producing Electric Vehicles (EV) and their batteries is powered by fossil fuels, an EV will ultimately produce more carbon dioxide than an efficient conventional car – diesel or petrol. The greenness of an EV also depends on how the electricity to recharge it is generated.

And then there’s the cost 

There isn’t a new electric car to be had for less than £20,000 in the UK and that’s for a Supermini. A midsize family car will set you back in excess of thirty grand. Second-hand prices are similarly inflated, with the additional cost of battery hire or replacement to consider … as well as the dire lack of charging points in Hastings and elsewhere – as reported in the last issue of HIP. A hybrid – battery + petrol engine – car will save you around 30% fuel per mile, but you could end up paying several thousand pounds to replace an out-of-warranty battery. And the cost of a new hybrid is significantly higher than for an internal combustion-only vehicle.

PICTURE: Dave Young

So let’s consider the lowest Co2 emission engines.

And the awful irony is that your diesel car is probably the least polluting in this category. Official figures for a new 1600cc VW diesel Golf is just 108 grams per kilometer (g/km). A slightly smaller 1,500 cc petrol engine in the same car puts out 115g/cm. But, and it’s a big BUT, the diesel version will also be chucking out dioxides and nitrogen oxides, gases and fine particles, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, ethane, and ethylene. These though, are more hazardous to human health than to the planet via greenhouse gasses. So your choice is between endangering your fellow citizen or the planet? Tough call.  

Your decision is made easier with the knowledge that diesel engines are being banned from a growing number of cities, beginning with Bristol and parts of London. And anyway you don’t really want to be responsible for endangering your neighbours’ children do you?

So let’s assume you want a small-engine petrol car that puts out as little Co2 as possible.

Take a Skoda Fabia as an example. A similar size to a VW Polo, based on the same technology, but a good deal cheaper. A new Fabia will cost you upwards of £12,500. The one-litre ‘MPI’ engine puts out 110g/km of Co2. Pay £1500 more and a one-litre ‘TSI’ petrol engine gives you more power, better fuel economy and reduces your emissions to 103g/km. That’s right, you have to pay more to lower your pollution profile. 

If £14k is over your budget, let’s look at a three-year old Fabia. They start from around £5,000. The engine is an 1100 CC. But the C02 level leaps up to 121g/km. And if you want an even older model, say pre 2014, then it will be cheaper to buy, but the engine is bigger, the power less, and
the Co2 levels rise to around 140g/km. The encouraging news is that petrol engines are becoming increasingly efficient and putting out less and less carbon dioxide.  

But you have to pay for it

Now, here’s a curious thing. Even if you were tempted by a gas-guzzling SUV, you may soon not be able to buy one in Britain. After we’ve left the EU, manufacturers will face large fines unless we get our average Co2 levels down below 95g/km. Pre-Brexit, figures were taken across the whole EU, with countries that favour small cars – like Italy – bringing down the average. The British motorist tends to like bigger, more polluting vehicles, so once we’ve left we’re on our own and highly unlikely to meet the target. The car industry lobby group, the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders says “It could be that you see a reduction in consumer choice through the removal of higher-emitting vehicles”.

Meanwhile the government may want to revisit its recent changes to the ‘road tax’ – annual vehicle duty rates. Up until 2017 they were based on Co2 emissions. And below 130g/km you paid no more than £30 a year while a major polluter belting out more than 225g/km would pay £570. But that’s all changed and now after year one, everyone with a petrol or diesel car costing less than £40,000 pays £145 a year. So the incentive to run a low emission vehicle has simply disappeared. Not at all helpful for the planet nor, indeed, for the government’s own target for all our greenhouse gas emissions to be ‘net zero’ by 2050.


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