Australia: dumping ground for the world’s worst engines?

Real-world data points to our average emissions and fuel consumption increasing over past four years

Australia's emissions and fuel consumption increase

Australia is at risk of becoming a “dumping ground” for inefficient and polluting cars without a national policy regarding carbon dioxide emissions.

According to adjunct professor at the University of Technology Sydney, Robin Smit, the Government’s current plan of sitting back and relying on the measures already in place in Europe and America to reduce our road transport emissions isn’t working. In fact, real-world emissions rates are likely to have been increasing since 2015.

“I think mandatory emissions standards should really be adopted in Australia as soon as possible to prevent Australia from becoming a dumping ground for less fuel-efficient vehicles,” Smit said.

Simply relying on the car industry to improve the CO2 emissions and efficiency of its cars could also be a mistake. Because of this, Australia might end up receiving models with less ‘eco’ technology given there is currently no combined national framework to reduce CO2 emissions from road transport.

“I believe there is a real misconception out there that we don’t have to do anything because people think ‘it will go down anyway’.

“There is no incentive for the car companies to sell lower-emitting vehicles here. At the moment the manufacturers are allowed to sell anything they like with little restrictions,” Smit said

That’s the takeaway from a recent analysis by Transport Energy/Emission Research (TER), written by Professor Smit. However, the impetus for the study was to highlight the growing discrepancy between quoted and real-world consumption and emissions figures.

According to Smit, the way in which testing is currently conducted doesn’t allow enough for real-world factors; hence the figures assigned to a car can be inaccurate.

“The laboratory-based methods used to rate consumption and C02 emissions don’t return real-world figures … the testing conditions are often vastly different to reality,” Smit said

When asked if he was surprised with the disparity between quoted and real-world figures, the answer was a resounding “no”. In fact, in the past four years, manufacturers have become increasingly adept at gaming the NEDC test, so what looks like a gentle downward trend in Australian average emissions is, in the real world, a sharp uptick. The difference between lab and real world figures stood at around 10 percent in 2014, accelerating to a gulf of around 40 percent now.

“Overseas this is a very well-known issue, to the extent that in Europe they want to change their official tests to WLTP, so the problems with NEDC records will be somewhat addressed.

“In the US they have also added new real-world test cycles. So internationally there has been a lot of effort to address the discrepancies,” Smit said.

Figures recorded by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) show that to June 30, 2018 there are 19 million motor vehicles on Australian roads.

For the 12 months previous, it’s estimated that those cars travelled and estimated 255 million kilometres, a rise of 74 million from the 181 million recorded in 2000 (NSW motorists drove the furthest at 74,566 million kilometres). Interestingly, total kilometres travelled are consistently growing in line with population growth.

Overall C02 emissions from road transport have increased by 31 percent from 2000-2017, and now accounts for as much as 22 percent of all recorded emissions.

On top of the misguiding figures, Smit cites a change in buyer behaviour for the increases.

“What the statistical analysis suggests is that there has been a progressive increase in vehicle weight and a shift to four-wheel-drive vehicles. Both have a negative impact on CO2 emission rates. And this is particularly so for diesel cars and SUVs.

“There is a misconception around diesel cars; people think they’re good for the environment because they are more efficient and they have a good CO2 emission rate. But they are actually 10 percent higher on a grammes-per kilometre basis compared to petrol vehicles on average, Smit said.”

However, according to Smit, the changes in engine design, namely shifting to lower cylinder counts and capacities with turbocharging, have aided fuel and emissions reductions. A shift from manual transmissions to CVTs has also helped.

“All that has had beneficial impacts on official CO2 emissions rates and somewhat offsets the increase due to excess weight and more four-wheel-drive vehicles,” Smit said.

With little to no sanction on high emitting vehicles, Australia could easily find itself the sink for low unit cost, obsolete engine technologies.


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