The motor industry is a land of real contrasts. Yes, there are still far too many people driving eco-trashing gas guzzlers, but in recent years we have become far more aware of the negative influence cars have on the environment and eco cars are now becoming far more mainstream, with many car manufacturers now offering hybrid (electric and fuel) cars.

Nasty emissions

Experts have been developing new ways to make cars environmentally friendly and ensure the greater safety of passengers. These include finding ways to reduce the level of toxic and greenhouse gases emitted by new cars and improving their efficiency through better maintenance.

The European Union is the biggest car manufacturer in the world with 14,815 million units being made each year, followed by Northern America, which produces half of this number. In Europe, Germany is the biggest manufacturer, producing more than one third of the European total; it is often described as the ‘car nation’. The UK is the second largest market with over 2 million new car registrations.

The birth of the car

The first car was created in 1876 when Nicolaus August Otto, in co-operation with Eugen Langen, Gottfied Daimler and Wilhelm Maybach, developed the Otto- Motor. The Otto-Motor was the machine that ended the extensive search for a competent main engine. Gottfiend Daimler was the first to use the motor in a vehicle and to further develop the gas motor into a petrol engine. This meant that a gas pipe was no longer necessary, making the engine moveable. In 1886 the first four-wheel vehicle was developed, which travelled at 16 kilometres per hour.

By 1914 55,000 private cars and about 9,000 lorries were on Germany’s streets. Four years later the first cars reached the UK market, built mainly from steel. King Edward VII had a strong interest in motoring, so cars soon became accepted for the rich as a convenient method of travel.

Carbon monoxide

In recent years we have recognised that the car is one of the major sources of modern day pollution. In particular they emit high levels of harmful carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide in low levels is mainly harmless and only a threat to people with cardiovascular disease. But in larger amounts, as in cities, it is a threat to everyone. It is a colourless and odourless poison that affects the oxygen transport in the human body.

Carbon dioxide

Carbon dioxide, which is also emitted by cars, is the most important greenhouse gas and therefore plays a major part in causing climate change. Although there are many more cars on the roads, and cars have become heavier due to higher safety requirements, engines have become much more efficient.

The good news, then, is that in the last few years CO2 emissions from cars have actually decreased, thanks to agreements between car manufacturers and governments.

Nitrogen oxides

The nitrogen oxides released by car exhausts are a major contributor to the production of smog. Sunlight reacts with air pollutants to form a photochemical smog made up of ground-level ozone. Smog is a particular problem in urban areas, where it can have a severe effect on health.

European emission standards

The European Commission introduced the ‘Euro standard’ at the beginning of the 1990s, a long-term development plan to reduce emissions from new cars. Each new car has to meet the target, currently the Euro IV standard.

In 1998 the European Car Manufacturer Association agreed to reduce CO2 emissions by 25 per cent within ten years – the aim was to reduce averages from 186g CO2 /km to 140g/km by the year 2008. Heavy diesel engines (buses and lorries) will have to be converted significantly to meet the current Euro IV standard.

The introduction of Euro standards has already yielded fruit. Although car numbers have significantly grown over the last 20 years, the real level of emissions has decreased within the last decade.

The Euro V standard came into effect in 2010, and tighter standards will come into force in 2015 (Euro VI).

The ‘green’ label

In the UK, legislation is going to introduce coloured labels to let potential buyers see at a glance how polluting different cars are. The labels are based on the emissions of CO2. By 2005, all new four-wheel cars featured these coloured buttons. The lower the emissions, the greener the label. The number in the strip indicates the number of grams of CO2 emitted per kilometre travelled (e.g. 101-120g CO2 /km).

Below is a sample of fuel consumption from different cars, showing the huge range in figures.

Honda Insight: 80G/KM

Toyota Prius: 104G/KM

Smart City Coupe Hatchback: 121G/KM

Ford Mondeo 1.8 Sci Ghia: 179G/KM

BMW 520L SE: 219G/KM

Britain’s greenest car – the G-Wiz

The G-Wiz is an electric car developed by Reva, an Indian company. It has fast become popular in London where it is distributed by GoinGreen. Apart from the fact that the car is 100 per cent emission free, it is exempt from the London congestion charge, and you get free parking in many areas and car parks.

Costs: The price is approx. £14,000 (inc. VAT), which may seem like a lot of money, but with the limited additional and daily running costs, it really can make a difference to you and the environment. You can also get second-hand G-Wiz cars costing as little as £2,500, at

Charging the battery: This takes 2.5 to 6 hours. Many car parks offer free charging facilities.

Disadvantage: It can be cold inside the car in winter.

Driving power: The top speed is 40mph with a battery cruising rate of about 40 miles (depending on how you drive it!)

For more information about the G-Wiz, visit

The ten greenest mainstream cars

Unless you buy an electric car and have signed up to a renewable energy tariff, it is impossible to drive without creating any pollution, but some cars are less harmful to the environment than others. The Environmental Transport Association’s most recent top ten greenest cars are decided according to the statistical combination of four factors: power (engine capacity), carbon dioxide emissions, fuel consumption (urban cold cycle) and noise.

The brilliant details such as batteries hidden under seats that recharge when breaks are applied, electric motors that engage when going uphill reducing emissions and carefully conceived size and shape making them easier to park in small spaces set these cars apart. With all of the greenest cars landing inside the A or B tax band, it’s heartening to know that green-minded people are rewarded for their environmentally-friendly choice. They also all cost less than a £1000 to fuel per 12,000 miles. If size really isn’t important and reducing your impact on the environment is the ETA publishes another top ten of cars with the lowest CO2 emissions. For more information visit:

The ten least green cars

The ETA also publishes a list of the least environmentally friendly cars. The worst are the ones which are the least economical and fuel-efficient. Their CO2 emissions are twice those of the ten greenest cars, or even higher. Interestingly, all ten cars fall into the luxury or off-road segment of the market.

Cars in the future

Although cars remain an enormous threat to our world and our health, the first steps have been taken to make our environment cleaner and more pleasant to live in.

Specialists forecast an enormous fall in car emissions, especially between 2010 and 2020. When the new labels are introduced in the UK it can be assumed that people will become more aware of the impact of
car pollution. It is hoped that these labels will then be introduced in all European countries.

The introduction of hybrid cars has shown that manufacturers are aware of the need to improve cars and decrease emissions, and their adoption by a number of high-level MPs and influential Hollywood names may help to increase their profile within the general population. Moreover, the introduction of 100 per cent electronic vehicles is a radical step towards reducing emissions in our cities.

Tips for Greener Travel

Before you travel

    • Think about the possibility of selling the car if it is not really necessary. Public transport is a great alternative
    • Avoid using the car for short journeys – walk or use a bicycle
    • Plan your journey carefully. Listen to the traffic news and try to avoid overcrowded routes to avoid sitting in jams
    • Remove roof racks to reduce wind resistance
    • Do not carry heavy objects in your car boot as a heavy car consumes more fuel
    • Check that your tyres have the right pressure

When driving

    • Drive smoothly and efficiently. Avoid fast acceleration and sudden breaking as this uses more fuel. Driving slowly and in higher gears uses less fuel
    • Switch your engine off when you know you will be waiting in a jam for more than two minutes
    • Inspect your car regularly to keep your engine efficiency at the highest possible level
    • Unnecessary electrical devices and air conditioning increase fuel consumption
    • Check your fuel consumption regularly. If you recognise any changes there may be something wrong with the engine

Buying a new car

    • If you cannot live without a car, think about the possibility of car sharing, perhaps within the family. Maybe one car is enough, instead of two or three
    • If you really need to buy a car, buy a new one – the newer the better! New cars are more environmentally friendly and less polluting
    • Your car should be as small as possible as these are more fuel efficient
    • Or you could rent the car next door with

Green advances in the car industry

  • In the 1930s the average car travelled 25 miles per gallon with a top speed of 60mph. Today the most efficient
    models can travel 50 or 60 miles per gallon. Other advances are diesel and unleaded fuel, which are kinder to the environment
  • Other areas need increased investment to help lessen the environmental impact of the car. These include fuel alternatives, legislation and further improved engines


More information on the environmental problems associated with cars and the organisations that are trying to prevent them can be found on the following websites.

  • The Environmental Transport Association
  • Friends of the Earth
    Link to July 2006 report, ‘Driving Up Carbon Emissions From Road Transport’
  • The Department for Transport
    Information on current legislation
  • The European Commission

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