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CO2 emissions from UK car production have halved since 1999

The ‘per vehicle’ figures for energy and water use, plus C02 emissions, all show dramatic falls as the UK car industry cleans up its act

Nissan Sunderland

Manufacturing your new car uses roughly the same amount of energy as the average household uses in electricity every year, data from the Society of Manufacturers and Traders has revealed.

Figures from the 2023 SMMT Automotive Sustainability Report show that it now takes 2.6 MegaWatt hours of energy to produce a single vehicle in the UK, compared to 3.9mWh in 1999. According to Ofgem, a medium-use household typically consumes around 2.9mWh of electricity annually - or 2,900kWh - in addition to typical domestic gas consumption of 12,000kWh.

The SMMT’s annual look at sustainability matters picks out 1999 as a benchmark, because C02 production during vehicle manufacturing has dropped 50 per cent - in 1999 C02 emitted during production was 1.1 tonnes per vehicle, but it has now fallen to 0.5 tonnes. Total C02 output from manufacturing has dropped by an initially dramatic 72 per cent since 1999, but the scale of the UK’s manufacturing output has fallen too - in 1999 the UK built close to 2 million vehicles (cars and commercials), but that figure only just topped 1 million last year. Other notable ‘per vehicle’ emissions improvements include a 53 per cent drop in the production of Volatile Organic Compounds.

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The Sustainability Report also includes information on the social and economic impact of the automotive industry in the UK, and it’s notable that while vehicle production has halved since 1999, the number of people the SMMT calculates as relying on the automotive industry for income has dropped far less - from 907,000 to 793,000. Meanwhile, the number of people employed directly by the industry has dropped from 95,214 to 82,111, it says.

The SMMT says its report signposts the role automotive can play in the new Labour government’s plan for green growth. “We look forward to working with the new government to deliver its green growth agenda that puts Britain at the front of the queue for global investment and sustainability leadership,” says SMMT chief exec Mike Hawes. “Automotive can be the driving force behind this strategy, reducing carbon emissions still further while growing the economy, improving air quality and delivering new jobs and skills for people across the country.”

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Current affairs and features editor

Chris covers all aspects of motoring life for Auto Express. Over a long career he has contributed news and car reviews to brands such as Autocar, WhatCar?, PistonHeads, Goodwood and The Motor Trader.

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