CO2 emissions from average new car in UK increase first time since 2000

Drivers keeping away from diesel cars are partly to blame for an increase in carbon dioxide emissions from new vehicles, according to the car industry trade body.

The 0.8 per cent increase, to 121 grams per kilometre, comes as the first increase since the SMMT started reporting levels in 2000.

Diesels typically emit up to over 20 per cent less CO2 than petrol cars and are more fuel-efficient.

Also slowing diesel sales, the popularity of SUVs contributed to the rise. SUVs account for about a quarter more CO2 than the smallest vehicles.

Despite the small increase in carbon emissions last year, new cars now account for a third less CO2 in total than they did in 2000.

New vehicles are far more efficient than older cars, but the 5.7 per cent fall in new registrations to 2.54 million last year showed that drivers are keeping their cars for longer, according to commentators.

The SMMT has called on the government to offer a consistent approach to sales incentives and tax in order to encourage drivers to buy the cleanest cars - and spend more on electric vehicle charging points.

"Meeting the pan-European 2020 - 2021 new car and van CO2 targets looks ever more challenging, given recent market developments and government policy announcements," the industry body said in its report.

The sales of electric cars accounts for only 0.5 per cent of new car sales in the UK.

The SMMT report acknowledged that cheaper running costs may have encouraged committed diesel drivers to buy bigger models, as it noted, ''Consumers appear to have often used the improved efficiency of the products to enable them to move into larger and higher value vehicles.''

Greg Archer of the cleaner transport campaign group Transport & Environment, said, ''The principal reason CO2 emissions are rising is that carmakers are selling more gas-guzzling SUVs. Blaming the slump in diesel sales is a smokescreen that hide their failure to fit fuel efficiency technologies to the new cars they are selling.''

According to the SMMT sales of electric cars were disappointing and long-term incentives would be needed to achieve cuts in CO2 emissions of almost 6 per cent a year until 2021 under EU requirements.

The industry body added that the confusion over government policy was causing buyers to hold back, particularly tax changes that took effect last April and more announced in the autumn budget.