About time to put eco-labels on new cars in Sweden

Half of the member states in the EU put energy labels on new cars just like on fridges, but Sweden is not one of them. Even in the oil rich Emirate of Dubai they disclose the fuel consumption and emissions on a sticker in the car window, which is not allowed to be removed by anybody else than the buyer. Energy efficiency and emission control are apparently more important to the sheikhs of Dubai than to the political leaders of Sweden. We must act now, or become worst in class. 

Image: Even the Emirate of Dubai puts energy labels on cars. Why is it not yet done in Sweden? Audi R8 Coupé gets the grade “Very poor”. Photo: Jesper Johansson

A detailed proposal for energy labels on cars was presented in 2013 in the official report Fossil free road transport (Fossilfrihet på väg), commissioned by the Swedish government. The idea was to use the consumer power to increase the energy efficiency in the vehicle fleet in order to minimize the volume of renewable fuels needed to achieve the national goal that Swedish road transport should be nearly fossil free in 2030.

Up until now, our politicians have ignored this proposal even though nothing prevents its realization. An EU directive from 1999 explicitly supports such labels. Sweden can lean on all the countries that have already introduced environmental and energy labels on cars, in Europe as well as on other continents. The American system is particularly ambitious.

– If our politicians want to release the consumer power among the car buyers they can do it today, says Martin Prieto Beaulieu, Secretary General of the Green Motorists. The only possible reason why they have not done it yet is that they have not wanted to, for some reason.

According to the proposal in the official report, the energy consumption per unit distance should be graded with coloured bars in the same way as on fridges and other appliances. To avoid that all electric cars are placed in the best class, the energy consumption is used as the raw data rather than the CO2-emissions from the exhaust pipe. In this way electric cars are also allowed to compete with energy efficiency. The Green Motorists thinks this is wise.

The Green Motorists also want to emphasize the need for better consumer information about the consumption of plug-in hybrids. The so called “weighted consumption” figures are most often mentioned in advertising. These figures try to convey the consumption of electricity plus fuel when the car is used in a typical way. It is hard to understand these figures and they are often misinterpreted. The separate consumption of electricity and fuel tells us more about the properties of the car. Therefore these should be stated on the energy label.

– Sometimes not even the general agents can say how much electricity is consumed by their own plug-in hybrids when they are used as electric cars, or how much fuel is consumed when the battery is empty, says Per Östborn, project manager for Green Motorists’ Green Car of the Year competition. Yet these figures can be found in the type approvals. This makes it clear that sharper rules for consumer information about cars are needed.

– The label must also tell black on white whether the car is dependent on fossil fuels, emphasizes Martin Prieto Beaulieu. It should be made clear if the vehicle can run instead on electricity, or if it is approved for ethanol E85, methane, renewable diesel HVO, or hydrogen. There should be a resistance to buying a new car that have to be filled with fossil petrol or diesel. By the way, the Swedish politicians should put an end to the sale of such cars already during their present term of office. These fossils should be buried for good.

Under the headline I Want to Know The Green Motorists campaigned for more than five years for better consumer information about the climate impact and origin of our fuels. Under the renewed headline We Want to Know we widen the perspective and call for better consumer information about our vehicles, among other things.

– Sweden will be the first country in the world to put eco-labels on fuel pumps, and we are therefore best in class, says Johanna Grant, chairperson of the Green Motorists. When it comes to eco-labels on cars we have fallen way behind, on the other hand. We may become worst in class if the politicians do not wake up now.

Johanna Grant concludes:

– To introduce a simple eco-label for vehicles is a piece of cake compared to the introduction of eco-labels for fuels. It took two years for the former government from their declaration of intent to a detailed regulation about eco-labels for fuels. If the present government just decides to introduce eco-labels for vehicles it would therefore take even less time before we have a system ready for use.

The proposal by the Green Motorists for eco-labels on vehicles

A standardized eco-label should be placed in the window of all new cars and light trucks, in all advertising, and on all web pages of the general agents. An initial version of the label should include:

  • Energy consumption per unit distance, displayed using coloured bars just like on other European energy labels
  • Tail pipe CO2-emission
  • Fuel consumption. For plug-in hybrids, the consumption when driving on electricity and fuel should be disclosed separately.
  • Information whether the vehicle is approved for an alternative, mostly renewable fuel – and in that case which such fuel
  • Driving range on all fuels (including electricity) that the vehicle is approved for. This means that the ranges on electricity and fuel are disclosed separately for plug-in hybrids, and that the range on methane and liquid fuel are disclosed separately for CNG vehicles.
  • Exhaust emissions, perhaps summarized by the Euro class of the vehicle
  • QR-code which links to explanations and more detailed information

At a later stage, a more elaborate eco-label should also include the climate impact and the use of raw materials during vehicle production.

A more elaborate eco-label including data from the production phase is particularly important when it comes to electric vehicles, where the assembly of the battery gives rise to large greenhouse gas emissions. However, such an eco-label requires a standardized method for life cycle assessments for vehicles, which is still missing.

Many car manufacturers already make their own life cycle assessments, but data from different manufacturers are not entirely comparable. Starting from 2018, the Green Motorists therefore employ our own model that depends only on the power train and the vehicle weight in order to compare the climate impact during the production phase for all models that we nominate to our competition The Green Car of the Year.

Bengt Dalström from Toyota (right) receives a diploma from the Green Motorists and the Vice Mayor of Stockholm Daniel Helldén (left) for an exemplary, public life cycle assessment of the hydrogen car Toyota Mirai.

Evaluation of the EU car labelling directive

Sweden should learn from other countries when we design our own eco-labels for vehicles. In 2016 the EU commission presented an evaluation of directive 1999/94/EC, which governs consumer information about the emissions and fuel economy of cars. Here we list some conclusions.

  • The compliance rates with the label requirements are high in the majority of countries for which data is available (80–90 percent). The compliance with the requirements in Sweden is much lower, less than 50 percent.
  • 11 Member States out of 28 have adopted a colour-coded design similar to that of the EU energy label. Three countries have implemented alternative colour-coded formats. In Sweden and in the remaining countries there is no format specified.
  • The most effective channel for consumer information is a standardized label with the same kind of colour coding as on the European energy label. This is so in particular when the seven categories A–G are used, and when the energy efficiency scale that these categories represent is absolute rather than relative.
  • There are valuable synergies between car labelling and car taxation. This has proven true in France, Great Britain and Denmark, among other European countries. It may therefore be a good idea to adjust the categories on a future Swedish car label to the categories of our bonus-malus taxation.
  • There is not much quantitative evidence for the desired effect that eco-labels reduce the emissions from new cars. France is an exception. In a scientific study it was concluded that the French eco-labels in combination with their bonus-malus taxation contributed 29 percent of the CO2-emission reduction among new cars from the year 2003 to 2008. The eco-labels alone contributed 14 percent to this reduction.
  • The effect of the car label increases if it includes running costs, taxes included.
  • The car labelling directive should be expanded to include requirements how to communicate that a car can run on alternative fuels, such as electricity, hydrogen, or biomethane.
  • There is a need for clearer requirements regarding consumer information about emissions and energy efficiency when manufacturers advertise their cars in digital channels and on the web.
  • The lack of requirements about consumer information about air pollutants like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter may have diminished the effect of the directive.
  • The effect of the directive would increase if it also targeted the sale of used cars.

The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) recommends that the Car Labelling Directive is revised once the transition to the new test cycle WLTP has been completed.

The economy and eco-label that shall be placed in the window of all new cars in the US. In contrast to the European labels it contains compulsory information about the emission of air pollutants via a smog rating.

About time to put eco-labels on new cars in Sweden