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LOW CO2 CARS: Lower and lower emissions, greater and greater possibilities

Date: 01 June 2010

Manufacturers have made spectacular leaps in cutting emissions; putting choice, performance and practicality within reach of fleets who place a premium on being eco-friendly. Paul Barker looks at what's on offer

Not so long ago, getting below 121g/km of CO2 was just a pipe dream for manufacturers. Now we have a tremendous and ever-increase variety of models at that point, while even lower targets are being smashed as car makers seek to stay a step ahead of industry regulators.

Just two years ago, when BusinessCar first focussed on the array of models available at sub-121g/km, there were 272 variants on car makers' price lists. Now the figure is 639, with more than 200 of those under 111g/km and almost 50 below 100g/km. These three boundaries are becoming more important thanks to the efficiency gains possible, and the impact that has on both company and driver tax payments as well as a firm's environmental credentials. That was amplified last month with London mayor Boris Johnson's announcement that he is planning to give sub-101g/km cars a 100% exemption from the city's congestion charge scheme.

We've looked through a variety of factors, to find the cars best suited to a range of needs, using BusinessCar's own excellent tax calculator (www., provided by Comcar. All the figures quoted here are for vehicles actually on sale in mid-May, according to Comcar.

The first category we looked at was the price extremes at the three levels of emission. The lowest will appeal in particular to the growing, if still small-scale, popularity of salary sacrifice schemes, and employees being able to get into a new car for a minimal monthly payment and tax penalty. At the other end of the scale, more senior employees may feel that there's nothing at these CO2 levels suitable for their status, so seeing some of the more expensive models should help dispel that theory.

Ditto those around the size of vehicle, and the 0-62mph times, both proving that it's not just superminis that can slot into the most efficient company car tax bands. There's a huge choice of family-friendly machinery that's fit-for-purpose as a job car or for those employees needing to carry a lot of kit.

BusinessCar has also thrown in a subjective top five, looking at those cars we find most appealing at the three CO2 cut-off points. They won't be to everyone's taste, but provide the perfect illustration of the cross-section of appealing models on offer that can cut tax and fuel costs for businesses and their employees.

Another category was the actual number of models each manufacturer has below our three key CO2 boundaries, giving an insight into the amount of choice each brand can offer. Vauxhall topped two of the charts, with Toyota having the most cars under 111g/km. Interestingly, Renault had the second-highest figure below 121g/km, but hadn't yet launched a single car below 111g/km, although that is about to change with the arrival of a sub-100g/km Clio.

Vauxhall's high result comes as it offers such a diverse range of low- CO2 trim levels, unlike some rivals that only have one or two models at the lowest CO2 points.

The one thing we haven't factored into this investigation, but will probably have to for the next one, is electric vehicles. There are six on sale, but with varying degrees of impracticality. The first models that could make sense in the right role will be with us within 12 months. Nissan's lower medium

Leaf is the big one, although Mitsubishi's expensive city car i-Miev will be here before then, while its Peugeot and Citroen brothers will also be priced up soon. It will be interesting to see how they react to Nissan's aggressive strategy of putting the Leaf within reach of those currently choosing a lower medium diesel hatchback.

What is certain is that there's more choice than ever before among low-emitting vehicles.

Credit is due to the car manufacturing fraternity for its monumental efforts in reducing CO2. That will continue, but a key element now is making sure that the message gets through to those choosing cars that the compromises attached to picking efficient models are less than they've ever been, and in some cases have been eradicated completely.

The importance of CO2 boundaries


There's a hefty reduction in a driver's benefit-in-kind taxes if they are able to select a vehicle below 121g/km, as it puts them in the 10% banding for petrol cars and 13% for diesels, compared with 15% and 18% for cars between 121-134g/km. The increasing number and quality of cars below 121g/km, including premium brands, has led to many businesses looking to cap emissions for the majority of staff at this level. Salary sacrifice schemes are also at their most effective for lower emission models.

At the time of writing, there were 639 individual models on sale in the UK below 121g/km. When BusinessCar carried out the same research two years ago, the number was 272.


Getting below 111g/km means bigger saving for employers who buy outright, thanks to last year's changes to the capital allowance writing-down regulations. BMW's 320d Efficient Dynamics model is the pioneer at this level, otherwise it's mainly lower medium models or superminis available. When BusinessCar went to press there were 209 individually designated models on offer in the UK at 110g/km or below.

Up to 100g/km

This category is now a hot topic after the London Congestion Charge consultation raised the possibility of sub-101g/km cars getting a 100% discount from the beginning of 2011. At present, the only tax break for being at this level is an exemption from vehicle excise duty that would otherwise cost £20 this year, and will be free from 2011 for cars under 111g/km. But, from April 2012, only cars under 100g/km will qualify for the lowest 10% BIK banding (13% if a diesel unless the rules change), so drivers signing a three- or four-year contract now will by impacted by the change. At present, there are 48 different models on sale at this CO2 level, but that is expected to rapidly rise as the boundary becomes more influential, in the same way as the sub-121g/km point has expanded in recent years.