Bentley Joins the Race for Low CO2 Emissions

By Andy Bannister


The drive to drastically lower carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from new cars is gathering pace, with volume producers and niche companies alike waking up to the fact that doing nothing could seriously hurt their sales.

European Union lawmakers are currently working on new regulations which mean makers will be required to have much lower average emissions per car of CO2 by 2012, with the possibility of huge fines for non-compliance. Wrangling is still going in the European Parliament on the exact average figure required, which is likely to be between 120 and 150 grammes of C02 per kilometre.

British luxury brand Bentley recently raised eyebrows by announcing its cars would be capable of reaching the 120 gramme standard within that deadline. Given that each vehicle in Bentley’s four-model line up currently emits over 400 grammes per kilometre that seems a tall order. The Continental GT is marginally the greenest Bentley at 410 grammes and the larger models including the new Brooklands coupé churn out 465.

It isn’t quite clear exactly how Bentley will meet the standard, but it seems much of the saving will be made by modifying existing engines to be more efficient and capable of running on renewable biofuels, produced from ethanol, grain or sugar.

Biofuels themselves are controversial as they have been blamed for taking over large swathes of land used to grow crops for food, threatening food shortages in some third world countries.

A new engine for the Bentley line up is also in the pipeline, possibly spelling the eventual end of the company’s venerable V8, made since the 1950s and said to be the world’s second-oldest car engine still in continuous production. It appears, though, that Bentley’s most ambitious aspirations are based on persuading legislators that average CO2 emissions should be recalculated to take into account the energy expended in the production life-cycle of biofuel – an argument that is unlikely to cut much ice with Europe’s “green” campaigners .

It isn’t just Bentley that is feeling the cold winds of change. The performance division of Daimler, AMG is one of a number of producers which currently relies on huge engines which have poor fuel consumption and sky-high carbon dioxide emissions, and is searching for an answer on where to go next. No-one yet knows the effect on the long-term prospects of companies who sell the more polluting cars, but the worst case scenario is that in many markets they could attract disproportionately high taxes as well as become much less attractive as used vehicles, badly denting resale values.

CO2 taxes are already well-entrenched in some European states, with increasingly punitive annual road tax being introduced in the UK on the most polluting vehicles. Across the Channel in France, where a new CO2-based purchase price tax was introduced this January, marques including Mercedes-Benz, VW and Toyota have already been hard-hit, as buyers switch to smaller, more efficient models in line with the government’s intentions. The French-based carmakers, Renault and Peugeot-Citroën, stand to benefit from the changes, as they already produce a significant number of small cars which pump out low levels of CO2. There remains the problem, however, that small cars generally make small profits, unless production is outsourced to lower wage countries such as those in eastern Europe. The move is also likely to hurt sales of recently-launched larger French cars like the Renault Laguna and Citroën C5.

Downsizing is also spreading to engines, with Renault developing a new 900cc power plant for the big-selling Renault Clio hatchback (a Ford Fiesta and Honda Fit-sized model), which currently has a base engine of 1200cc. Having crept up gradually in engine size and weight steadily since the 1970s, European cars could suddenly begin to shrink again

Like the French, Fiat of Italy is also well placed with the hot-selling new 500 and models like the Panda and Punto which help the company to have one of Europe’s most CO2-efficient line-ups at the moment (an average of 144 grammes of CO2 per kilometre).

To reduce overall emissions still further and keep up with arch-rival Renault, Fiat is said to be developing a new small 900cc engine for the entry-level Panda, and has plans to introduce new hybrid cars and vans.

It looks a little more worrying for the German manufacturers who make the majority of Europe’s larger, more polluting models and could be hit by hefty fines if they fail to meet new EU targets. It’s also likely the target won’t be a one-off, but will get more stringent in future years.

All in all, these changes look set to cause some of the most radical changes the car industry has seen for many years, and the both the policies and their consequences are likely to spread soon to other markets around the globe.

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Author: Andy Bannister

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  1. It’s not just the Germans. The cars/SUVs from Sweden and England are also larger than the usual in Europe, and are going to have a lot of trouble meeting CO2 requirements.

  2. A “green” Bentley? You can’t make this stuff up.This has to be true because it’s so preposterous.

  3. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m going to invest in companies selling oxygen for home use. I see we are all going to need it.

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