Findings by research company Jato show Europe is on track to achieve its 2015 target of 130g of carbon dioxide per kilometre for new cars ahead of schedule, after a fall of almost 3 per cent last year.
The 2012 figure of 132.3g/km includes nine mainstream brands that already get 130g/km or better while 40 per cent of new cars sold in Europe emitted 120g/km or less.
Fiat is the star performer in terms of average emissions but the German luxury trio of Audi, BMW and Mercedes are reducing quickest as they focus more on small cars.
The picture in Australia is very different. Figures from the National Transport Commission released today show Australian emissions are reducing slightly faster with a 3.7 per cent fall last year. However, we remain a long way behind Europe with a 2012 result of 199g/km, down from 206.6g/km the year before.
The reason, according to Neil Wong of the NTC, is Australia's preference for larger vehicles with automatic transmissions, compared with Europe's fondness for small manuals.
Given the government's intention to introduce mandatory emissions targets in 2015, the NTC report contains an informative comparison between buyer types. Private buyers averaged 191g/km against 206g/km for business purchasers and 212g/km for government fleets.
In other words, if the expected 2015 target of 190g/km is introduced, then government will have to set its house in order -- or ordinary consumers will need to make up the difference. One thing governments might consider -- in the absence of local purchasing obligations, of course -- is to steer clear of Australian-made cars. Average CO2 for them was 210g/km.
Another alternative would be to abandon the idea of mandatory targets all together. They can influence what carmakers offer but do little to change showroom preferences. The NTC report calculates that if we had all bought vehicles with best-in-class emissions last year, the national average would be 40 per cent lower (119g/km).