G/km not mpg: Europe's emissions obsession

The European auto industry focuses on emissions, while the U.S. targets gas mileage--how will this affect their respective cars?

What's your carbon footprint? CNET Networks

One thing that struck me at last week's Geneva auto show was the heavy emphasis that the European car market is placing on emissions rather than on fuel economy. In marked contrast to automakers in the United States, which now tend to extol their models' gas mileage at every opportunity, car makers doing business in Europe (even those from Japan and the U.S.) go to great lengths to provide figures on the carbon emissions that their models expel--given in grams per kilometer, or g/km. A good example of this was the launch of the new Ford Fiesta supermini, which is destined for markets worldwide, but which will be introduced in Europe first. Headline features in Ford's news release on the car noted its engine specifications, the usual guff about "kinetic" exterior design, and the information that "Fiesta will expand Ford ECOnetic ultra-low CO2 range, delivering less than 100g/km emission". There was no mention anywhere in the 2,684-word news release on gas-mileage figures. We saw similar situations with the new European Honda Accord (whose news release noted that all of the engines for the new model are "Euro 5 emissions compliant", but which gave no figures on gas mileage); the Volvo XC60 (CO2 target of about 170 g/km, no figures on fuel economy); and even the two new John Cooper Works Minis, whose news release included details on emissions levels long before mentioning fuel economy.

The difference between the American and European priorities reflects differences in legislation between Washington and Brussels: while the recent U.S. energy bill mandated a corporate average fleet economy of 35 mpg by 2020, the most recent European directivecalls for a limit on carbon dioxide emissions from passenger cars of 130g per kilometer by the year 2012. Although there are plenty of noises coming from individual states in the U.S., such as California, that want to set their own greenhouse gas emission standards for cars, these are currently prohibited by the federal government. If this situation remains, it will be interesting to see how products in the European and U.S. car markets evolve to meet the different requirements. While fuel efficiency and emissions are unquestionably linked, it could be that European cars actually become less fuel efficient as manufacturers load them up with technology to reduce emissions, while cars in the U.S. market continue to spew out high levels of pollutants as long as they are going further on a gallon of gas.