Australia's cars go backwards

Sydney - Cars in Australian driveways are no more fuel- efficient than those they drove when the Beatles' first album Please Please Me was in record shops.

A study of official figures by Melbourne University's Paul Mees shows the fuel efficiency of the average Australian car has remained unchanged since 1963 at 11.4 litres of petrol per 100 kilometres.

"The improvements in emissions you hear cited are from the promotional material released by car companies, which put the best possible spin on things," Mees told reporters. "But the Australian Bureau of Statistics doesn't put the spin on it: the current rate of progress in making cars more fuel-efficient is no progress at all."

Mees says that while engine efficiency has indeed increased since 1963, it has been offset by bigger vehicles with bigger engines and a bigger inventory of weighty features like air-conditioning, power steering and the automatic transmission. It's also the case that country roads have improved and highways become relative racetracks.

"If you drive at 110 kilometres per hour, you use more fuel than if you drive at 70," Mees said.

Australia is one of the world's most urbanized countries yet big- engined vehicles are popular.

The 4 million residents of Sydney drive more kilometres and use more petrol than the residents of any European or Asian city. Their average of 5,886 kilometres a year is nearly three times the average of Tokyo motorists. They use twice as much petrol as car owners in London, Paris and Zurich, and three times as much as those in Kuala Lumpur and Tokyo. (dpa)

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