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Carmakers: get your green house in order

Date: 21 March 2007

Guy Bird is our editor-at-large and political columnist

The environment is at the top of the political agenda, yet car carmakers are nowhere near up to speed when it comes to providing meaningful green information about themselves, writes Guy Bird

Ask a carmaker PR how fast, powerful or quick a car is and you'll almost always get an equally rapid response. Top speed? "No problem, 195mph", 0-62mph? "Easy peasy.4.8 seconds". But move on to greener facts and the trail begins to go cold.

There was a time when mpg was hard to come by in some top end marque's brochures - "If you can afford to fill it up you don't need to know" - but now pretty much every brand will have it prominently displayed. After 2002 when UK company car tax became CO2-obssessed carmakers gradually got a grip of the fact that the new information was not only pertinent but essential to fleet managers and drivers. However, requesting both figures for any new car will still occasionally cause much clicking of keyboards and shuffling of papers ("the greenest car by mpg and CO2 you say? It's round here somewhere I'm sure"). Move onto average CO2 emissions across their fleet, the greenness of their production plants and more and you sometimes feel the frost (and/or apathy) right down the phone. "Why don't you look at our website there's a great 157-page report on sustainability you can, I don't know which bits are relevant but errrr, enjoy. click, brrrrrrrr.."

Now of course, how quick a car goes in a straight line on a private airfield on a dry day might be a bit more interesting than how many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are emitted each year from the 17th highest-selling fleet player's production facility in Vilnius, but in 2007, with climate change on the agenda as never before, suddenly the former is about as useful as a chocolate teapot to the average fleet manager trying to tick all the boxes from their senior management on sustainability in the thick of re-tendering for potential vehicle suppliers.

“Move onto average Co2 emissions across a carmaker's fleet and you sometimes feel the apathy down the phone”

Guy Bird

Our greenest carmakers feature highlights the almost collective failure perfectly. The disinterest in the green subject matter followed by borderline obstructive behaviour in one or two instances was eye-opening. Luckily, we were able to obtain a lot of the key info we needed through a third-party source that almost no carmaker would officially verify, but equally none directly questioned the veracity of. I would hope and expect a fleet tender pitch where money is involved would be dealt with more favourably and promptly. Anyone would think they had something to hide, but ironically some of the makers who fared best in our survey were the most useless at telling us about their green exploits. Equally, some who fared less well overall, like Toyota (despite its headline-grabbing hybrid Prius it also makes the Land Cruiser as well remember), were among the best at explaining concisely and convincingly its 'green cred'.

While these sorts of requests look set to only get more commonplace in light of the current political and social (excuse the pun) climate, maybe it's about time the carmakers got a grip of their environmental message and started to get savvy at disseminating it to the outside world as well as within the industry. Otherwise we'll just leave ourselves - as a whole industry not just the carmakers - wide open to criticism about our environmental footprint from those who couldn't care less if the industry fell on its backside.

Guy Bird is our editor-at-large and political columnist