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Carbon Burden From US Cars Increasing

CO2 per vehicle. This chart is an inverse image of the EPA fuel economy chart. (I.e., as fuel economy decreases, emissions increase.)

A new report from Environmental Defense finds that total annual CO2 emissions from US cars and light trucks have increased 25% above 1990 levels (through 2003). Both the total emissions and average emissions per vehicle continue to rise.

The sizeable increase is due to multiple factors: stagnating fuel economy (earlier post), the growth in market share held by light trucks, and an increase in vehicle miles travelled.

This CO2 emissions level...represents net growth of 64% from 1970 and a 25% increase from the 1990 level, a common base for climate policies. Nevertheless, the 64% growth in carbon emissions is much less than the 160% jump in vehicle miles of travel from 1970 to 2003 because of the rapid improvement in new vehicle fuel economy between 1974 and 1981.

The report, Automakers’s Corporate Carbon Burdens, updates an earlier version published in 2002, and extends the analysis through 2003.

Key findings of the report for the six largest automakers (which account for 87% of US sales) are:

  • Nissan’s new fleet-average CO2 emissions rate increased the most among the Big Six firms, jumping 8.4% between 1990 and 2003.

  • Ford’s performance was second worst, with its average CO2 emissions rate rising 7.7%.

  • DaimlerChrysler’s rose by 6.8%.

  • GM’s rose by 6.3%.

  • Honda’s rose 5.7%.

  • Toyota’s rose 2.9%.

General Motors and Ford—with the largest share of the market—have the largest total new fleet CO2 emissions. GM’s vehicles sold in 2003 will emit 6.4 million tons of carbon annually, the biggest carbon burden among automakers.

The highest and lowest values in each column in the table below are in bold.

Average per Vehicle CO2 Emissions Rate (TCO2/yr)
Combined new car & light truck fleet19902003% Change
aKia entered the US market in 1993
GM 5.05 5.37 6.3%
Ford 5.16 5.56 7.7%
DaimlerChrysler 5.18 5.54 6.8%
Toyota 4.43 4.56 2.9%
Honda 4.03 4.26 5.7%
Nissan 4.49 4.87 8.4%
VW 4.35 4.21 -3.3%
Hyundai 3.73 4.33 16.1%
Mitsubishi 4.38 4.64 6.0%
BMW 5.60 4.89 -12.7%
Kiaa n/a 4.99 n/a
Subaru 4.39 4.52 2.9%
Overall 4.91 5.11 4.0%




Do these carbon numbers include energy used in manufacturing the average vehicle?


No, the study is just dealing with direct vehicle emissions.

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