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GFEI report concludes 50% improvement in average fuel economy of entire global light duty fleet by 2050 is achievable; importance of the regulatory and fiscal environments

US NRC panel’s summary estimates of the potential reduction in petroleum consumption by 2035 for vehicle powertrain types assuming that the entire potential of these technologies is used to improve fuel economy rather than performance. Source: George Eads. Click to enlarge.

The Global Fuel Economy Initiative’s targets (earlier post) to improve average fuel economy by 50% for new cars by 2030 and for the entire global light duty vehicle fleet by the same amount by 2050 (“50by50”) is achievable using existing, cost-effective technologies, a new report commissioned by the Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) has concluded. However, the report also notes that in order to improve fuel economy, the technical potential must be utilized entirely for that purpose, and not to support increases in performance. This, it remarks, has often not been the case, pointing to the experience in the US.

The report by George C. Eads, Charles River Associates, was presented at the Transportation Research Board (TRB) Annual Meeting in Washington DC on 25 January 2011. It was commissioned in order to provide an independent assessment of the 50 by 50 targets. Titled ‘50 by 50’, Prospects and Progress, the report has a two-fold mission: (1) to assess the prospects for reaching the 50 by 50 goal in the light of on-going research and other developments that have occurred over the past year or so, and (2) to assess the progress being made in reaching that goal.

Overall, since currently about two-thirds of new cars are sold in the OECD, the 50% GFEI target still appears appropriate and achievable on a world-wide basis. More specifically, the 2005 average global new vehicle fuel economy level of about 8 L/100km can probably be reduced to close to 4 L/100km. This is equivalent to increasing fuel economy from about 30 to about 60 MPG, from 12.5 km/L to 25 km/L, or reducing CO2 emissions from gasoline vehicles from 186 gCO2/km to 93 gCO2/km. A new vehicle fleet average fuel economy level of 4 L/100km by 2030, or something close to it, may be a useful target for most countries to aim at.

In some countries it may be necessary to augment the incremental technology improvements described elsewhere in this paper, with widespread use of electric vehicles to reach these targets. The need for this will depend on whether additional incremental fuel economy technologies not accounted for in current studies become available and achieve widespread commercialization over the next 20 years. More generally, the regulation of fuel economy will tend to limit increases in vehicle size and performance, and in some countries regulation to meet the targets may require changes to the current size mix and/or performance of vehicles.

—‘50 by 50’, Prospects and Progress

The report addressed seven broad topics:

  1. Factors explaining current cross-country differences in average new car vehicle fuel economy.
  2. Recent studies of the technical potential to improve average new car fuel economy.
  3. Translating “technical potential” into equivalent actual improvement in average new car fuel economy
  4. Major policy initiatives recently finalized by the EU and the US to improve average new car fuel economy; policy initiatives being undertaken by certain other governments
  5. Potential to accelerate fleet turnover: possible lessons from recent policy initiatives
  6. Cross-country flows of used cars
  7. GFEI capability building efforts

Worldwide, the car fleet is set to triple by 2050, with serious implications for the global effort to address climate change unless reducing transport emissions and improving fuel economy become an urgent global priority, warns the GFEI. The report challenges everyone with an interest in this issue to take the appropriate action to achieve this objective:

  • Governments must create the conditions for industry to deliver the maximum from technological innovation, while fiscal instruments need to be coherent and consistent with targets;

  • Countries which have not done so should launch national fuel economy initiatives, while around the world binding fuel economy targets must be set;

  • Manufacturers must set fuel economy as a top priority, and be ambitious in negotiating long term fuel economy targets with government.

According to the report, of key importance is creating a regulatory and fiscal environment that steers manufacturers towards using technology to improve fuel economy rather than enhanced performance and heavier vehicles. It must also steer consumer demand towards more energy efficient vehicles. Countries must start developing national fuel economy initiatives right now and the GFEI is working with regions and countries around the world to move forward in this respect.

The GFEI, launched in early 2009, is a partnership of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), International Energy Agency (IEA), International Transport Forum (ITF) and FIA Foundation.

The GFEI is supporting countries worldwide to develop the frameworks and policies required to significantly improve automotive fuel economy. The GFEI is also attempting to raise awareness and capacity of all stakeholders, including lawmakers and the general public, on the issue of fuel economy. This will be done by supporting national policy development, labelling programs, public information campaigns and continued use of workshops and conferences to share information and the results of recent research.




USA should have no problem going from a fleet average of 16.66 mpg to well over 50 mpg before 2050. Rising oil and food price will help. People will not drive what they cannot afford.


In the US this goal of 50% fuel economy improvement is easily feasible by 2020 not 2030. The main challenge is marketing. As long as the average Bob & Sally think they need to drive a big pickup to impress people it won't happen. The marketing people at OEMs have to tailor the product to the market, ie sell what sells.

In Europe on the other hand, most cars are already small and economical so the 2030 goal is perhaps more realistic.


Thank you, nordic, for shedding some common sense on the situation. A vast majority of our energy problems are the result of ignorance not flagrant immorality. Punitive legislation and government intervention are neither necessary nor preferable at this time.


"Punitive legislation and government intervention are neither necessary nor preferable at this time."

Don't tell HarveyD that.


"Punitive legislation and government intervention are neither necessary nor preferable at this time."

I disagree. You do need government intervention - either as cafe rules, the EU's CO2 limits, and/or fuel taxation.

The price of fuel is too volatile to cause automakers to build and people to want fuel efficient cars.

So people buy SUVs etc that they do not need, just want.

And then, when the price of oil shoots up (like in 2008 or now), people complain because their 18mpg SUV costs a fortune to drive.

You need to keep steady pressure on the car companies and the people to get changes in behavior.

Thus, people in Europe with 50mpg diesels, and people (anywhere) with Prii don't really notice when the price of oil doubles and the cost of fuel increases.

Because it takes about 5 years to design a new car and even longer to further improve them (generation by generation), and because cars last 10 years or more, it will probably take until 2030 turn over a fleet (US or EU or whatever) to a noticeably more efficient one.


There is the other side to fuel economy in regards to traffic flow and congestion.

While the new stop start and electric motors dont suffer so much, the older fleet will never realise it's full potential in a peak hour traffic snarl.

Heavy vehicle to passenger ratios will also be particularly disadvantaged where traffic and population densities are high.

Optimistically if all concerned act to their responsibilities, and the financial incentive/ penalty is a part of this, we will see these vast improvements that planners are seeking.

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