It’s not just American cars that are gas guzzlers. The average Australian car now uses about 8.1 litres of petrol for every 100 kilometres traveled. This is close to the American average of 8.6 litres per 100 kilometres but far worse than Europe at 5.5 litres or Japan at 5.1 litres per 100 kilometres.

When light commercial and all-terrain vehicles are included, Australian vehicles average 11.4 litres per 100 kilometres. Despite all of the technical improvements of the last 40 years, this is the same average fuel consumption as was being achieved by Australian vehicles in the 1960s. All of the improvements in engine performance have gone into providing  bigger cars with more comforts like air conditioning, power steering and power windows and into allowing vehicles to travel at higher speeds on the improved roads.

As well as driving vehicles which consume more fuel, Australians drive greater distances than Europeans – the average Australian car travels about 15,000  kilometres per annum compared with 12,300 for Europeans. And Europeans are doing much more to reduce their fuel consumption. Electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles are being developed in several European countries and, in France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has pledged to stop all new motorway and airport construction. Instead, funds will be invested in the rail network with the aim of moving freight off the roads.