leading change

Light vehicle emissions intensity in Australia

Learn more about carbon emissions intensity trends for new cars sold in Australia.

Light vehicle emissions intensity in Australia

Light vehicle emissions intensity in Australia

Why reduce emissions intensity?

Transport accounts for 18% of all of Austalia’s carbon dioxide emissions.
This year’s report shows that emissions intensity for new cars sold dropped only 2% between 2020 and 2021. 

If all cars sold in 2021 were ‘best in class’ for emissions, Australia’s total 2021 emissions would have reduced by: 

  • 91% for passenger vehicles and small SUVs 
  • 47% larger SUVs and utes.

Reducing carbon emissions intensity across every new vehicle sold would help lower total emissions from our transport sector. This would help cut Australia’s overall carbon emissions. 

Increased sales of SUVs and utes, where there are fewer choices for cleaner vehicles, are tempering Australia’s improvement in transport emissions. 

A range of vehicles with various sized tailpipe emissions

Average emissions intensity in 2021

The latest report looks at vehicle emissions intensity for light vehicles sold in Australia in the 2021 calendar year.

Average emissions intensity for passenger cars and light SUVs was 146.5 g/km.

The average emissions intensity of heavy SUVs and light commercial vehicles was 212.5 g/km.

Both figures represent a 2% decrease from the previous year.


Defining emissions intensity 

Emissions intensity is the grams of carbon dioxide a vehicle may generate per kilometre (g/km) travelled – not the total carbon emissions it generates. 

The data in this report reflects the carbon impact of tailpipe emissions. It doesn’t reflect:

  • all aspects of lifecycle emissions for a vehicle including manufacture, transport to point of sale, and disposal 
  • the carbon impact of the electricity used to power electric vehicles.  

Vehicles that perform best in terms of emissions intensity typically use battery or plugin hybrid electric vehicle technology. 

A variety of different types of electric vehicles lining up at a charging station

Types of vehicles covered in the report

Our report covers new light vehicle sales each year. In 2021, there were 18.4 million light vehicles registered in Australia. These include:

  • Passenger vehicles, for example a hatch, sedan, wagon, people mover, 4WD, SUV or sports car.
  • Light commercial vehicles, for example a utility vehicle or van.

Technology on the market in 2021

The report looks a range of light vehicles from fully battery powered to fully petrol and diesel powered. Key emissions reduction tech available here includes:

  • Battery electric vehicles have electric motors with batteries need to be recharged from an external source. These types of EVs have the lowest tailpipe emissions. 
  • Plugin hybrid electric vehicles have electric motors with batteries that need to be externally recharged, supported by a petrol or diesel engine. 
  • Hybrid electric vehicles are powered by a petrol or diesel engine along with one or more electric motors that use energy stored in batteries. Batteries are not recharged from an external source.

Key takeaways in 2021

While there are more electric and hybrid vehicles on Australian roads than ever before, there’s still significant potential for growth. 

Trends observed in other countries can lead to significant uptake in greener vehicles:

  • investment in public recharging stations
  • preferential tax arrangements and other incentives
  • the adoption of emissions standards.

EVs are on the rise

Sales of battery electric vehicles (BEV) and plugin hybrid electric vehicles (PHEV) increased by 179% from 2020 to 2021.  

BEV sales nearly tripled and PHEV sales doubled.

But it’s off a low base. BEVs and PHEVs still represent just 0.23% of the nation’s 18.4 million cars and light commercial vehicles on our roads. 


EV range has increased

EV range anxiety is reducing with significant improvement in battery range from around 200km in 2011 to a maximum of around 600km in 2021.

Increases in EV range mean more distance travelled in between charges.


We’re falling behind the rest of the world

Australia is falling behind other countries when it comes to driving down emissions.

  • Of all new passenger cars sold here last year around 45% had an emissions intensity of 160 g/km or less, compared with Europe where almost 90% of cars sold did. 
  • According to the International Energy Agency (2022), 2.8% of 2021 car sales in Australia were electric. This figure was 17% in Europe, 16% in China, 5% in the United States and 4.4% in New Zealand.

Australians are buying larger vehicles

Sales of 4x4 and 4x2 utes increased by more than 43,000, and large SUV sales increased by around 25,000. 

  • Half of all new car sales were SUVs, up from a quarter of all sales a decade ago. 
  • Small vehicle segment once accounted for a quarter of all sales but today is one in 10. 
  • The emissions intensity for many of these popular vehicles exceeds 210 g/km. 
  • There is no option yet in Australia to purchase an electric ute.