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Last Updated: Sunday, 14 October 2007, 23:31 GMT 00:31 UK
Carmakers laud emission reductions
By Will Smale
Business reporter, BBC News

Citroen's 2CV is easily fast enough for central London

Weaving through rush hour traffic in central London in a Citroen 2CV, it is immediately obvious that you don't need a high powered car to put a grin on your face.

As its tiny 0.6 litre engine roars like an abused lawnmower, the iconic little car has so much personality you couldn't care less when the traffic then inevitably grinds to a halt.

You just sit there still smiling, while all around you commuters in their big modern saloons bear expressions of at best weary defeat, at worst repressed rage.

Their cars might be faster, but they really aren't going to get there any quicker.

Increasing economy

The 25-year-old 2CV has been kindly provided by enthusiast Adrian Chapman from the 2CV Club of Great Britain.

It is one half of Citroen's representation at an event designed to show how far motor manufacturers have improved safety and performance over the years, while at the same time increasing fuel economy and reducing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.

BMW M635i from 1986 (left) and the new BMW 635D
BMW strives for both more power and less emission

Eight manufacturers are in attendance - Citroen, Toyota, Ford, Mercedes, Jaguar, BMW, Vauxhall and VW.

Each has provided two cars for comparison test drives, one from many years ago, the other from their current model range.

As Mr Chapman, 36, explains, car safety has come on a bit since the days of the feather-weight 2CV, which Citroen stopped making in 1990.

"If you are going to get hit by a lorry in a 2CV, then yes, it is going to hurt," he says. "Just not as bad as being on a bike.

"But as a result, you just drive more safely in a 2CV, you don't get any of the false security you can get in a big modern car."

Carmakers get kicked from all sides over emissions, as we are an easy target
BMW's Duncan Forrester

And as Mr Chapman has driven a "deux chevaux" coast to coast across both the US and Australia without injury, he is more than qualified to comment.

The modern Citroen in attendance, a C3 Pluriel, is unsurprisingly a world apart.

Citroen probably won't appreciate the comparison, but unlike the 2CV, this is a car you'd be happy to crash in.

As solidly built as any modern small car, its 1.4 litre diesel engine produces 70 brake horsepower compared with the 2CV's minuscule 29, making it more than twice as fast.

Yet at the same time it is 60% more economical. Exact CO2 comparisons are not available, as they were not calculated for the 2CV before it ceased production.

Legislature pressures

It is the increase in fuel efficiency and resulting decline in emissions which all the car manufacturers were most keen to stress at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) organised event.

Graph showing CO2 emissions from cars

Arranged to coincide with the release of an SMMT report entitled The Evolution of the Car, the industry is ever keen to highlight just how much they have increased fuel economy and reduced carbon dioxide emissions in the past decades.

The public relations fight-back from the car firms comes as CO2 emissions has become ever more of a political issue.

While the European Commission continues to propose forcing carmakers to make an 18% cut in CO2 emissions to an average 130g from new cars by 2012, London Mayor Ken Livingstone wants low efficiency cars to be hit with a congestion charge of 25 a day.

This compares with the current blanket 8 charge, for all non-hybrid or alternative fuel cars.

Mr Livingstone's proposal - which would affect cars that produce 225g of CO2 per kilometre, and vehicles with engines larger than 3 litres that were registered before March 2001 - is now out for public consultation.

As the car firms face such increasing legislation, they are keen to stress that they are already making vast improvements on emissions.

'Efficient dynamics'

BMW's two cars in attendance at the SMMT test drive were its brand new 635D and a M635i from 1986.

The petrol M635i did an average 18 miles per gallon (mpg) when first released, while the 635D, a diesel, does 40 mpg.

As for the 2CV, no C02 emissions data are available for the M635i, but the old BMW's fuel consumption more than suggests it would be rather high indeed.

Duncan Forrester, media relations manager at BMW UK, says the car industry has been wrongly singled out for criticism by the environmental lobby.

"We get kicked from all sides over emissions, as we are an easy target," he says.

"But if you actually look at how we are responding to the challenge, we are leaps and bounds ahead of other industries."

Mr Forrester points to BMW's "efficient dynamics" programme, by which its newest cars have both increased performance and reduced emissions over the previous model.

He points out that recent new BMWs have had 17% less emissions and 23% better fuel economy than their immediate predecessors.

'Far to go'

Yet despite the carmakers undoubted advances, environmental groups say they are still not doing enough.

The Energy Saving Trust points to the fact that carmakers are still struggling to meet voluntary C02 reduction targets agreed with the European Union (EU).

While the EU wants new cars sold in 2008/09 to emit, on average, no more than 140g of C02 per kilometre, such EU-wide emissions in 2005 totalled 162g, while those in the UK in 2006 were 167g.

"We welcome industry achievements in reducing overall energy use, as well as the steady reduction in CO2 emissions per vehicle," says Caroline Watson, transport policy manager at the Energy Saving Trust.

"However, the UK industry still has far to go.

"We will fail to meet the EU Voluntary Agreement for average new car emissions by 2008/09, and on the current path it will take more than 10 years to meet the proposed 2012 target of 130g per km."

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