New car registrations: Energy efficiency on the rise, but CO2 targets demand more action

75 percent growth in efficiency class A+ / Only marginal drop in average fuel consumption / Largest growth in SUV sales / Alternative engines remain the exception

Sales of low-emission vehicles rose significantly in 2015, soaring by 75 percent for the highest efficiency class, A+, and by 25 percent for efficiency class A. Nonetheless, the average fuel consumption among new cars has fallen only slightly. This trend is driven by the increasing number of high-performance and high-consumption SUVs (Sport Utility Vehicles), the drop in sales of hatchbacks and the continued low market share held by alternative, non-petrol systems, such as electric, natural gas or hydrogen vehicles. These facts are presented in a report by Deutsche Energie-Agentur (dena), German Energy Agency, based on data acquired from the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA).

“The rise in vehicle efficiency is pointing in the right direction, but a lot more has to happen on the market to achieve the necessary turnaround in emissions”, says Andreas Kuhlmann, Chief Executive of Deutsche Energie-Agentur (dena), German Energy Agency. “Manufacturers already offer a broad range of energy-efficient vehicles. The "PKW Label" car ecolabel simplifies the process of comparing consumption and emission characteristics. We need to up the tempo, especially with regards to sales of electric and hydrogen vehicles, if we want to fulfil the 2020 CO2 target for new cars.”

In 2015, each registered new car emitted an average of 128.8 grams of CO2 per kilometre, or 4 grams, or in other words, 3 percent less than last year. EU-wide, average emissions need to be cut to 95 grams by 2020. Only 3 percent of all new car registrations in Germany currently meet this benchmark, and most of them are Minis, hatchbacks and vehicles with alternative engine systems. Germany will not hit the 2020 target if this trend continues.

70 percent of new car registrations belong to the green efficiency classes A+, A and B

In total, over 3.2 million new cars were registered in 2015, a higher number than in the last six years. 70 percent of new car registrations are in the efficiency classes A+, A and B, denoted by the green "PKW-Label" car ecolabel. Last year the number was 58 percent. Most cars are registered in efficiency class B (34 percent), followed by classes A (24 percent), C (19 percent) and A+ (11 percent). Sales in the green classes rose substantially, but fell by around 25 percent in each of the classes C, D and E.

The highest selling vehicle segment remains the compact class, accounting for a market share of 27 percent. The proportion of compact cars in efficiency classes A+, A and B is 80 percent, and therefore significantly above average. Representation of the green efficiency class is particularly strong in the upper middle class segment (96 percent) and in the middle class segment (90 percent). SUVs and off-road vehicles recorded the largest growth in sales, climbing by 71,000 to 13 percent of the 600,000 new vehicle registrations. The green efficiency classes account for 63 percent of this group.

Alternative engine systems remain a niche market

Although the sale of vehicles equipped with alternative engine systems rose by 10 percent to 56,000, the segment continues to hold a very insubstantial share of the market (1.7 percent). Among the alternative engine systems, hybrid engines– including plug-in hybrids whose motors are charged by connection to the mains and not by the combustion engine itself – recorded 33,000 new registrations, the largest group. They were followed by purely electric (12,500), natural gas (5,285) and liquid gas vehicles (4,716). Natural gas and liquid gas cars experienced a significant drop (30 percent and 40 percent respectively), while hybrid and electric vehicles recorded an increase in sales, rising 50 percent and 20 percent respectively.

“Although alternatives now exist in all vehicle segments, cars continue to run almost exclusively on petroleum-based fuels”, Kuhlmann points out. “If we want to make progress, we need a conclusive overall strategy and the right framework. Protracted and inconsistent discussions on possible political intervention will merely unsettle the customers and manufacturers. That’s why the recent decision to subsidise the purchase of electric vehicles is a positive step forward. But there must be no procrastination in the extension of the energy tax rebate for natural gas and biomethane either. The overarching goals we need to pursue include a large-scale innovation programme, the construction of new infrastructures and the development of new services. This is not just a question of climate protection and the energy transition. It is also about the future of mobility and the automotive industry itself.”

About the "PKW-Label" car ecolabel

The "PKW Label" car ecolabel scheme is based on a colour and letter scale which describes the energy efficiency of the car. Green, or A+, denotes the highest energy efficiency class while red, or G, indicates the lowest. Aside from specifying the level of efficiency, the label also provides information on fuel consumption and costs as well as vehicle tax. This helps prospective buyers assess and compare different models in the same segment.

The website offers consumers, car dealers and fleet operators detailed information on the car ecolabel. New cars have been subject to mandatory labelling since 1 December 2011. Dealers can also visit the dena website to create their own. The website is constantly updated to take account of changes in the calculation base for fuel prices and car taxes.

The report

The report “Entwicklung der Neuzulassungen CO2-effizienter Pkws” (Trend in new CO2-efficient car registrations), published by the dena initiative “Implementation Platform for Car Ecolabels”, is available to download at The report is based on current new car registration figures provided by the German Federal Motor Transport Authority (KBA). The "Implementation Platform for Car Ecolabels" is funded by the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy.