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he start of 2011 has marked some major milestones in the commercialisation of electric car technology. Rising fuel prices and government incen- tives are currently encouraging customers to consider having their next car run on electricity. Since the start of the year, the first three out of nine electric car models have become eligible for a grants of up to £5,000. A similar level of tax credit is avail- able for plug-in electric vehicles in the US, where the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are generating a number of very positive trade reviews. Amongst other awards, the Volt has just won the North American Car of the Year at the 2011 Detroit Motor Show, with the Leaf a runner-up. Much of

the marketing for

these new electric cars has been to do with their


credentials. A current Nissan Leaf advert even features a polar bear hugging the new Nissan Leaf owner. Yet, what is the evidence that people’s level of environ- mental concern has any impact on the overall car market? Do ‘greener people’ currently drive ‘greener cars’? We tested this idea on our Environmental Choices data for England, Canada and the US using the null hypothesis that ‘there is no relationship between people’s concern about climate change and how “climate-friend- ly” their car is’.

I was quite surprised by the result. The test showed that in North America, Climate Citizens are significantly more likely to use lower-emission cars than Sceptics/Uninvolved. This differ- ence is especially pronounced in Canada (at over 99% confidence), and directionally significant in the US (90% confidence). Yet, in England the study showed no evidence that Climate Citizens use lower-emission cars than Sceptics/Uninvolveds.

It will be interesting to explore further what might be behind this. Comparing England with North America, is it to do with range of car types available, how people see car transport within

Do people who are concerned about climate change drive green cars?

by Peter Winters

tion did not exactly tally with the available cars shown in the EPA data, or if the information was ambiguous, or if the EPA had not rated that vehicle.

Caught in a bear hug: the TV advertisement for the Nissan Leaf promotes the vehicle’s low-carbon credentials

their overall travel mix, the time lag between being


about climate change and chang- ing the cars-on-the-road, and/or the environmental credentials of diesel? To take the last point, around a quarter of English cars are run on diesel, a fuel little used in North America. While diesel provides better tail-pipe emis- sions than equivalent petrol cars, it may be difficult to think of diesel as being ‘green’, especially when it generates 12% higher emissions per litre than petrol. And how green will people really see electric cars in North America, the UK and elsewhere? Will more countries follow Norway’s advertising guidelines in saying that no car is really ‘green’? Will the EPA take into

account full fuel life-cycle esti- mates in generating Greenhouse Gas scores for electric cars, and how would they do it?

Here are some technical details of our analysis. The EPA and the Department of Transport pro- vide information about the exact fuel-efficiency performance and greenhouse gas emissions of cars sold from the year 2000. For the North American data, we strictly matched the 2000 to 2008 vehi- cles by model-year, model-type, displacement and fuel-type. If possible, pre-2000 vehicles were matched just against the last three criteria, taking into account that this would not be possible for those models discontinued by the year 2000. We also did not make a match if the respondent informa-

In all, we were able to identify Greenhouse Gas ratings for 2,232 (63.3%) of the 3,527 cars used in the households of the Canadian and American Environmental Choices respondents. We con- ducted the analysis described in this article on the 1,093 cars for which the respondent was mainly responsible. For the UK data we took a similar approach, although, given the amount of variation in model types, we were a degree less strict in our match- ing criteria. Also, one assumption we did make to undertake the

analysis was to take the CO2 rat- ing for the manual transmission version of each car (an unimpor- tant issue for the EPA data). In all we matched 1,168 (82.4%) of the 1,417 cars used in the English households. The analysis was conducted on the 596 cars for which the respondent was mainly responsible.

Peter Winters is president of Haddock Research & Branding. Haddock Research is a leading market research agency dedicated to providing vital information to those creating a low-carbon world. SB readers can claim a 15% discount on Environmental Choices reports, available now at: environmental_choices/ section_reports

Sustainable Business | February 2011 | 15

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