The volume weighted average CO2 emissions (NEDC) of vehicles registered in Europe during 2020 was 106.7g/km, 12% lower than for 2019.

In a COVID-19 pandemic-challenged year, demand for electric vehicles increased and CO2 emissions fell further than before, according to data from JATO Dynamics for 21 countries.

This was due to tougher government regulations such as the enforcement of WLTP fuel economy rules and a shift in consumer attitudes in favour of electric vehicles.

Felipe Munoz, JATO’s global analyst, said: “Although the industry still needs to do more to meet the European Commission’s CO2 targets, manufacturers have demonstrated significant progress with their range and sales in 2020.”

Registrations of pure electric (BEV) and plug-in hybrid vehicles (PHEV) reached 1.21m units last year or 10.6% of the total market. Volume in 2019 totaled 466,000 units for a 3.1% share.

The COVID-19 pandemic had supported the growth of EVs across Europe. Focusing on how to bring the automotive market back to full strength, European countries opted to promote a green, sustainable recovery, with some governments creating new purchase incentives within their economic-stimulus packages. This resulted in many consumers moving away from traditional internal combustion engines (ICE) vehicles during the pandemic, instead purchasing low-emissions alternatives.

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ICE volume fell from 14.7m units in 2019, to 8.6m last year, accounting for three of four cars registered in Europe. This had an immediate effect on emissions levels.

Munoz said: “In a year when millions of potential buyers were not allowed to leave their homes, it is notable total average emissions decreased by 15g/km. It signifies a fundamental change to our notion of mobility and a greater appetite for sustainable options.”

With lockdown restrictions imposed across Europe and many governments delivering incentives packages for zero and low emissions cars, OEMs made changes to their models, deals and marketing in order to entice consumers towards EV and PHEV vehicles.

Six countries achieved average emissions below 100g/km: the Netherlands, Denmark, Portugal, Sweden, France and Finland. This also reflected the ranking for countries with the highest registration of EVs with Sweden (32%) and the Netherlands (25%) topping the list. Finland, Denmark and Portugal were next. It was the opposite in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Poland which all saw the highest CO2 averages and low levels of EV penetration.

Despite the turbulent economic backdrop, SUVs were a key driver of growth last year, easing the fall in sales across traditional hatchbacks, sedans, MPVs and wagons. In 2020, the volume of SUV registrations accounted for 40% of all passenger cars, and also posted the best results for average reduction to emissions levels. According to the data, SUV emissions fell by 16.2g/km between 2019 and 2020 – the biggest decrease among the five mega segments analysed (regular cars, MPVs, sport cars, SUVs and vans). This was, in part, due to the improved range of PHEV and BEV midsize, and large SUVs now available.