By Jim Kerr
What will our driving future be like? Undoubtedly, we will see big changes in both what we drive and how we drive it. Some of the change is being generated by environmental concerns, some of it by economics, and there is always a bit of politics thrown in to help confuse the issues. Right now, there are four big topics that are generating change: vehicle emissions, greenhouse gases, energy security and energy sustainability.
Emissions standards are getting tougher. If a vehicle doesn’t meet emissions standards, it can’t be built. Fortunately, emissions systems on vehicles eliminate most of the nasty stuff but we will need to either change engine design or add exhaust treatments to meet the future standards. Right now there are several standards around the world – Europe, Japan, and North America each have their own and all measure things differently and the vehicles have to be designed to conform. This adds to the cost of design and production of “world” cars. Manufacturers are trying to get one worldwide standard but that could be decades away. They finally just got a global standard for door latches!
Greenhouse gas, mainly CO2, is recognized as a cause of global warming. The internal combustion engine produces CO2 and about 13 to 15 per cent of tailpipe gases are made up of it. Right now the main way to reduce CO2 is to use less fuel through the use of smaller engines and lighter cars. Electric cars have been talked about as a solution, but we need to look at the total greenhouse gas production before going totally in that direction. For example, producing electricity at a coal-fired electrical plant may produce more CO2 than other alternative propulsion methods.
Energy security, or the ability to supply energy needs without the use of oil from overseas countries, is mainly a United States issue, but North America is seen as one market area, so it does affect what vehicles we will have in Canada too. We have already seen new U.S. standards for CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy). Existing standards are 27.5 mpg U.S. for cars and 22.2 mpg for trucks under 8,500 pounds (GVWR). CAFE standards are proposed to increase by 40 per cent by the year 2020 to an industry average of 35 mpg, which is approximately equal to about 6.7 litres per 100 kilometres. In The U.S., this is based on the vehicle class or footprint; by contrast, in Europe this is based by vehicle weight. Japan uses a completely different “Top Runner” approach, where the best vehicle in each class is used as the benchmark, to provide incentive to those not meeting the standards of the best.
Energy sustainability will change what we drive. Crossovers have become a new segment, but we will see smaller, lighter, more versatile vehicles. Light duty vehicles use 44.5 per cent of energy consumed in the transportation sector, and the U.S. has the most vehicles per 1,000 people with 750 to 780 per thousand residents. Canada, in comparison, has 550 to 600 vehicles per 1000 people. Reducing the weight of these vehicles by 10 per cent would give four to eight per cent improved fuel economy, but the average weight of vehicles has increased 10 to 20 per cent in the past 10 years. Smaller and lighter is the answer.
As for fuel economy, cars have improved by about 1.3 per cent since 1987 but this has been used for other purposes such as bigger vehicles or improved power. The average zero-to-100 km/h acceleration time was 15 seconds in 1991, but by 2005 it was only nine seconds. If we had used all the improvements for just fuel economy, a car that currently gets 29 mpg U.S. would now be getting 38 mpg. Trucks would see similar improvements and fuel economy now at 21 mpg U.S. could be at 30 mpg!
Fuels may change but we have to be careful. Lobby groups such as the Electric Drive Transportation Association, Ethanol Producers Association, oil companies and environmental groups affect legislation regarding fuels. Even though they may have the best intentions, policy can create disruptions in research. We need to let the best rise to the top, based on the technology available. Likely, we will see a variety of fuels on the market in the future.
Vehicles may look different and operate differently in the future, but there will still be vehicles and people with a passion for them.