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WRI Report: Current Fuel Economy Proposals Will Not Reduce Overall GHG Emissions from Cars and Light Trucks Over the Long Term

Light-duty vehicle fleet fuel consumption in US, Japan and European countries, in liters gasoline equivalent/100km. Click to enlarge.

Proposed fuel efficiency standards in both the US and EU will not reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks over the long term, according to a report released today by the World Resources Institute.

The report finds that industry has held fuel efficiency almost constant while increasing weight and power. Standards currently proposed in the US and Europe would lead to a 33% increase in fuel efficiency—defined as distance traveled per volume of fuel—in the US and about 25% in Europe once all cars on the road meet new standards. It will likely take 15 to 20 years for all vehicles on the road to meet any new standard, because it would only apply to cars yet to be sold. There will be additional delay between the time any new standard is set, and its going into force.

Total emissions from this part of the transport sector are dependent on how many people drive, what they drive, and how they drive. Fuel efficiency standards only address what they drive, and they don’t even do that very well.

—Lee Schipper, director of research at EMBARQ: The WRI Center for Sustainable Transport

Schipper presented his analysis of actual on-the-road fuel efficiencies in several countries over the last decades at an event in Bali as part of the United Nations’ climate summit.

It will actually take longer than 20 years for the effects of any standard to be fully realized—and the effect will be significantly less than is generally realized. The current proposals are not enough. Meanwhile, the number of people driving, and the congestion they drive in, will increase so much that the atmosphere will see greater overall emissions from this sector compared to today, not less.

—Lee Schipper
Analysis of US LDV GHG emissions presented at the 2007 Asilomar conference by John Heywood, Director of Sloan Automotive Laboratory at MIT. Even factoring in new technologies and lower-carbon fuels, GHG emissions from the fleet are still above current levels in 2035. Click to enlarge.

In 20 or 25 years, then, the on-the-road average efficiency of cars and light trucks sold in the US might reach 28 mpg as a result of the 35 mpg standard under consideration in the US.

Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transport sector is critical to mitigate climate change, according to Schipper. Automobiles account for 9% of total energy use and 20% of oil use in major industrialized countries, although in the US this share is much higher.

US car buyers and drivers may be slowly waking up. We need to do everything we can to improve fuel efficiency—but we also need to drive smaller, lighter vehicles. And we need to drive them less.

—Lee Schipper




"US car buyers and drivers may be slowly waking up. We need to do everything we can to improve fuel efficiency—but we also need to drive smaller, lighter vehicles. And we need to drive them less." (Lee Schipper)

"Wake up quickly, please." (Rest of the world)

For driving in highly congested situations, which the author implies is the majority of the time (i would agree) extended range hybrids (ie. 50 mile or 80 km battery range) or pure BEV would probably have a dramaticly larger impact on the reduction of GHG than the implies fuel efficiency numbers. In other words, the opposite impact of what this article suggest - an even greater impact in reduction in GHG than simple efficiency standards would suggest - for the simple reason that when these cars as in gridlock they are not running.

Harvey D

Accellerated PHEVs introduction may be the best way to drastically reduce liquid fuel consumption.

Incentives will be required to convince most or us to make the switch. The recent French proposal goes a long way towards that goal.

Buying a PHEV should cost no more than the standard model, the differential should be covered with subsidies.

Another approach would be FREE electric city cars. This system would use the same scheme as cellular FREE phones. Users would pay for the FREE electric city cars with an electricity surcharge at the charging stations. The surcharge would be more or less equivalent to the savings from such vehicles.

Such pay as you go approach (with zero down payment) would greatly accellerate sales of electric cars and reduce GHG in cities.

Tom Street

The current energy bill in congress is touted as a big breakthrough. Clearly, even if passed and not vetoed, it is not a breakthrough at all. In Bali, they are talking about cuts from 20 to 40% in CO2 by 2020. Clearly, the bill in congress won't even come close to doing that. When it comes to carbon reductions, half a loaf may be slightly better than none but still won't forestall major disaster.

fred schumacher

This report confirms that incremental change and individual action does not move fast enough to achieve GHG reductions needed to stabilize climate change.

Social problems require social solutions.

In 20 or 25 years, then, the on-the-road average efficiency of cars and light trucks sold in the US might reach 28 mpg as a result of the 35 mpg standard under consideration in the US.

This is such a joke. Long before that, scarcity and high petroleum prices will spark demand-driven fuel economy increases far in excess of 35 mpg.

In 20 of 25 years, the majority of vehicles on the road might not even be powered by liquid fuel.


Always valuable to examine the source of information such as this. In this case the report is created and issued by EMBARQ within the WRI. This one room, 5 person organization located in Washington DC is funded substantially by the Shell Oil Foundation and the Catepillar Diesel Company.

Beneath the oil money is the oil agenda - to never let go of you, the minions. Arghh... Fortunately, we will be transitioned to mostly EVs by the 2035 date.


...very interesting article. Thanks.
Should some Diesel-nerds take the wind out of the sails.
Without Diesel engine, no SUV boom in Europe. And a better air quality. It´s a shame.

Roger Pham

Yes, CAFE is hopeless in the fight for global warming and energy independence.

Two much more effective solutions:

1. Computer-matched professional carpool service using professional driver and 12-15 passenger vans, with door-to-door pickup and delivery, and flexible timing plus on-demand pickup. Plus, 6-passenger minivans for personal carpooling service for certified drivers who want to participate in the program. Save the SUV's and the minivans for weekend leisure trips.
Traffic congestion and urban air pollution problems will be also immediately solved without requiring any additional expense nor bureaucracy.
Talking about killing 3 birds with only one stone.

2. Everybody will drive economy cars and small BEV's for daily commute, and save the bigger cars for weekend trips, or soccer moms errands. Car ownership or rental club with rapid and automated checkout of "club cars" parked at participating supermarkets or convenient store parking lots for quick and convenient acquisition. If the war against global warming is taken as seriously as WWII, then the goverment will be able to institute these war-rationing plans almost overnite.

We have the technology, folks, we just don't take the problem of GW and petroleum dependency and ballooning trade-deficits hard enough. The Titanic is taking in a lot of water (foreign imports and trade imbalance and threat of nuclear terrorism) and the party still going on, and the captain is still asleep.


An article from the paper-mache school of analysis??

I don't have the time or inclination to read the source but the synopsis seems to premise:

Vehicle makers, not buyers, decide what to buy.

Fuel price won't matter.

There must be more drivers and more congestion.

The conclusion? Nothing changes much if nothing changes much.

There will constantly be more drivers and more congestion.


What gr said is absolutely correct.

This "study" is a headline in search of research. Completely bogus. But GW denyers, lassiez-faire absoloutists and environmental extremists will remember the headline - and forever claim that "studies show that CAFE will never work" and on the other side that "we must force people out of their cars RIGHT NOW."

Just bogus. Ignore it. Ignore it. Forget you ever saw it.


BlackSun: "In 20 to 25 years, the majority of vehicles on the road might not even be powered by liquid fuel."

I'm old enough to remember folks saying this thirty years ago during the first energy crisis.



Actually, I remember it too. But the first energy crisis was caused by U.S. oil peak and import problems. Now the production is peaking worldwide and there are several countries in the world who are growing faster than the U.S.. It's been reported that many oil exporting countries are now keeping more of their oil for their own use.

The game is way different this time--the energy 'crisis' is now a permanent fact of life. People can sort of handle rising energy prices, but wait until we start seeing shortages. Also, in 1973/1981 you didn't have GM gearing up to produce 60,000 electric cars/year.

Notice also that I said "might," since it's possible biofuels could ramp up quickly.



You are so right. They assume perverse incentives for automakers will remain the norm. Whether a grams/kilometer carbon regulation, or a more aggressive miles/gallon regulation, or a sin tax for passenger vehicles that weigh more than 1.5 tons is the answer, I don't know.

As much as I like the idea of a multitude of vats of algae or microbes making biofuels, I'm starting to think the real answer is a multitude of solar-thermal power plants across the southwest, pumping electricity to millions of PHEV30+ vehicles. It takes care of the fuel distribution problems and ultimately a big chunk of the coal problem. Total system carbon seems like it would ultimately be less that way.


HealthyB: I have advocated nuclear and solar-thermal for quite a while.

To me the reasons are simple. We know how to do both, have the resources, and are not hampered by any sort of international squabbles. There are a few UN rules about nuclear but nothing of consequence.

The grid would be upgraded. Again there are no technical barriers - electricity isn't exactly new - and few political ones.

I would first reduce use of piped-in NG for heating and cooking by taxation. After ten years NG piped to homes would be stopped. Howls would come from cooks, let them.

More or less ban coal and oil for heating within five years. The NG, coal and oil changes would be sweetened with some subsidized conversion.

The bogie man is always nuclear safety. Somehow the 100 plants we have now, some with fifty year old designs and forty year old hardware, do their job. I think terrorists could find one now so building more doesn't seem that risky.

For nuclear the pebble bed reactor with thorium looks like the long term winner to me. Of course our energy mavens think it must take another decade to even decide. It shouldn't. Meanwhile approve tried and true designs.

Notice I haven't mentioned transport. If electricity is relatively cheap enough the vehicles will appear to use it. Plugin hybrids are nearly here, and hybrid sales are booming even w/o plugin.

Stan Peterson

More ridiculous nonsense fromthe myopic clods who only project "more of the same"....

Certainly the automakers have increased the fuel efficiency of their vehicles at a rate of better than 5%, a year compounded over the past thirty years. They have also increased the weight of their vehicles. All around the world cars have gotten heavier, not just in the USA, but at a slower pace.

But not all of it is because the automakers are just evil meanies, as some of you seem to beleive. And YOU did it. YOU are responsible. YOUR sacred politicians, bureaucrats, and greens have had a lot to do with it.

Cars are much heavier today; but have much better brakes, ABS, stability anti-skid control, Air Bags, seat belts, side impact resistance, crumple zones, safety cages, better bumpers, improved safety glass, rollover protection. yada, yada, yada...

And you and I supported the regulators when they forced these improvements on the automakers. Crash deaths have decreased by some 10,000 lives per year. Even as we drive many more miles per year; three times what the entire Iraq War has cost us in lives. Every single year. And I for one am glad the changes were made. Cars are better, safer and cleaner, and I'm all for it.

Do you really believe in a Free Lunch?

Do you really think that all these improvements mandated on the automakers and consumers didn't have a cost?

Of course it did. The vehicles had to get bigger and heavier to carry all the safety improvements and pollution limiting equipment. Catalytic converters, EGR turbos, particularite filters, and three way catalysts all add weight. So do better breathing systems, multivalve, variable valve lift systems, to make more complete combustion.

To move around the heavier vehicle, with all this extra stuff, the automakers had to make the engines bigger and thirstier, even if they are more somewhat more efficient to help offset some of the growth in size.

But these people who just myopically project more of the same are forever wrong.

The US has taken this about as far as is possible; much further than overseas. The overseas foreign auto fleets still have to face the consequences of continuing to catch up in adding all this safety and pollution limiting equipement. We are just about done. For example, EU cars won't have the equivalent pollution limiting rules, that we have until after 2020. Our current cars already reflect the weight of this pollution liming equipment, while they do not. Yet.

Going forward, vehicles won't grow as much in the US, while overseas they will continue to get heavier for another decade. And the continuing efficiency gains will show up in better fuel economy, and from smaller and better engines, transmissions and drivetrains here in the US. While they play catchup, and pay the price that we have already paid.

These guys who just project more of the same old nonsense are always wrong; especially if they don't anticipate change in this rapidlly changing transport sector. Or understnad a simple facts and consequences in this sector.


Pretty obvious.

A 40% reduction in mileage, versus a 100% increase in vehicle miles traveled according to the EIA.

Obviously the cumulative emissions are going to go up.

While mileage reductions are wonderfully effective, they aren't if they are implemented slower than the growth in miles traveled.

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