By John DeCicco
Auto makers recognize the future importance of electrification. Most major car manufacturers have pledged to bring a growing number of EVs to market . Nevertheless, EVs still face many obstacles to widespread use, including higher price tags and lower convenience for many consumers .
Even as EVs’ prices fall, driving ranges rise and charging stations proliferate, the time required to charge EVs will remain a barrier. It’s therefore unclear whether the pieces are in place for a rapid transition to an all-electric automotive future.
Adopting clean-car standards that grow progressively more stringent each year and require auto makers to cut CO2 emissions from all the vehicles they sell would ensure that technological promises translate to actual emission reductions. This approach underpinned the Obama administration’s 2012 standards , which originally were designed to achieve a nearly 5% yearly average reduction in new-fleet CO2 emission rates.
Some auto makers seem to want to sidestep any serious obligation to meaningfully reduce emissions. General Motors has been on a publicity blitz about its EV plans, but the company has been notably silent on restoring strong clean-car standards.
In contrast, Ford /zigman2/quotes/208911460/composite F -2.44% , Honda /zigman2/quotes/207173990/composite HMC -0.80% /zigman2/quotes/200490352/delayed JP:7267 +2.68% , BMW /zigman2/quotes/202432319/delayed XE:BMW -0.93% /zigman2/quotes/200850296/delayed BMWYY -0.99% and Volkswagen /zigman2/quotes/203434344/delayed XE:VOW3 -1.74% /zigman2/quotes/210463125/delayed VWAPY -1.61% have cooperated with California to develop a plan more in line with climate protection needs . I would argue that even more stringent standards are needed to make up for lost time and put the fleet on track to a zero-carbon goal.
Although it’s not a good reason for weak standards, auto makers raise a valid concern when they point to weak marketwide interest in cleaner cars. Consumer demand for more efficient vehicles waxes and wanes with gasoline prices, but there’s an ongoing need to continually reduce CO2 emissions.
Although green groups and green-leaning policy makers have mounted extensive efforts to promote EVs, there is no comparable level of effort to encourage consumers to choose greener gasoline vehicles . That’s a missing link in clean-car strategy.
In short, to cut carbon from cars sooner rather than later, it is crucial to greatly improve the fuel economy of the gasoline vehicles that will still be sold in the years ahead. This is especially true for the pickups and SUVs that comprise the highest-emitting part of the fleet. At the end of the day, total emissions from the entire vehicle market matter much more for the planet than green niches glowing in the spotlight.
John DeCicco is a research professor emeritus at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. This was first published by The Conversation — “To make the US auto fleet greener, increasing fuel efficiency matters more than selling electric vehicles”