• Electric-car sales grow, led by France, Germany and U.K.
  • Diesel cars remain most popular, accounting for 52% of sales

New cars sold in the European Union were 3 percent cleaner in 2015 than the year before as restrictions on pollution forced manufacturers to make more efficient engines, data from the 28-nation bloc’s environment agency showed.

The average carbon dioxide output of the 13.7 million cars put on the road fell to 119.6 grams per kilometer driven from 123.4 gm/km the previous year, the Copenhagen-based European Environment Agency in Copenhagen said in a statement on Thursday.

The reading is 8 percent below the target of 130 grams set by the European Commission for all new passenger vehicles in the bloc. The Netherlands and Denmark had the cleanest cars. The least efficient cars were sold in Estonia and Latvia.

Diesel cars were the most popular in the EU, accounting for 52 percent of sales. Sales of plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles rose and were strongest in the Denmark and the Netherlands, reaching 8 percent to 12 percent of sales in those two markets respectively. Across the bloc, electric cars account for just 1.3 percent of all new cars sold.

About 57,000 pure battery-electric vehicles were registered last year, up 50 percent from the year before. France, Germany and the U.K. led that market.

Car emissions have fallen steadily since the EU target was adopted in 2012 and are cited by automakers as evidence that they’re moving to protect the environment. 

In Germany, the region’s biggest economy, Chancellor Angela Merkel is struggling to devise effective policy to cut transport emissions, which account for about 18 percent of Germany’s annual greenhouse gas output, more than the 12 percent average across the EU. A plan to put one million electric cars on the road by 2020 resulted in just 155,000 vehicles by last year, 85 percent short of target.

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