2009 has been a year of great development in vehicle technologies and while safety and performance remain high on the agenda, one of the key drivers for this has been the desire to produce cleaner, greener vehicles.

The manufacturers have made significant strides in reducing the CO2 emissions of their latest ranges, and while I grant you that this focus may not have come about quite as quickly if it wasn’t for pressure from the EU, the repsonse has been quite dramatic.

EU emissions targets have encouraged the manufacturers to focus new product development on lower emitting models so the speed of reduction in average new vehicle CO2 levels has moved from a leisurely stroll to a sprint and will continue to accelerate into 2010 and beyond.

Companies like Honda and Toyota are widely recognised as being at the forefront of these developments but its fair to say that pretty much all of the major manufacturers have got in on the act. BMW has done great things with its Efficient Dynamics range, to the extent that it has won the bid to become to official vehicle supplier to the 2012 London Olympics, touted as the “greenest games ever”.

VW, Renault, Nissan and a host of others are also delivering more efficient and as a result more economical vehicles. While much of the focus has been on cars, it is likely that vans will be brought into the spotlight next year. The EU wants to see an average CO2 figure of 175g/km and an average miles per gallon figure of 42.8 from 2014 which is sure to drive carbon reduction in some of the more polluting vehicles on the roads.

While the manufacturers have found themselves under the microscope when it comes to environmental performance, drivers and businesses are not exempt and are also coming under pressure. The full range of vehicle taxes have become clearly linked to environmental performance which continues to drive a change in attitudes and behaviour by hitting drivers in the pocket. This is a trend that isn’t set to relent as it will become increasingly more expensive to run higher polluting vehicles making it more important than ever to pick the right vehicle.

The impact is drivers moving into greener cars, even if the environment isn’t a priority to them, because that’s where the market is leading them. Drivers can now get cleaner, more economical vehicles without sacrificing too much performance, if at all, which shows that you don’t have to be a ‘greenie’ to cut your carbon footprint.