Toward greater fuel economy

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The Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), a partnership between a number of global organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme, has been helping governments and transport stakeholders around the world promote greater fuel economy since its launch in 2009. It does so by engaging in data and research analysis of fuel economy potentials by country and region; in-country capacity-building support for national and regional policy-making efforts; and outreach and awareness campaigns. It has several targets, the most ambitious being 50% improvement in vehicle fuel efficiency worldwide by 2050.

In its latest report, GFEI contended that there is a need for “unprecedented global action” across transport sector to achieve the goal reached in Paris, in 2015, of limiting average global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. “GFEI is accelerating policy change, and expanding our focus to support efforts to improve the fuel consumption of Heavy Duty Vehicles (HDVs), and integrate Electric Vehicles (EVs) into vehicle fuel economy policy frameworks,” the initiative said. It added that fuel economy policies are a key transport commitment in the climate Nationally Determined Contributions of many countries, which are the efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The initiative earlier found that from 2005 to 2015, global fuel economy improved by 1.5% a year on average. “This is around half the improvement rate needed to meet GFEI’s target to double average fuel economy by 2030 which would have required an annual improvement rate of 2.8%,” it said. “This means further action is needed.”

Not only did the average fuel economy underwhelmingly improve, the rate of progress also slackened. GFEI noted that the average amount of fuel required to travel 100 kilometers improved only by 1.1% in 2014 and 2015, but the rate was lower than the 1.8% improvement seen between 2005 and 2008. “This is linked in part to an increasing shift towards ‘crossover’ vehicles (medium-sized SUVs and pickups) that strengthened since 2010. It also reflects changes in the composition of sales globally, including increased sales in non-OECD markets and shifts occurring within the OECD, and comes in conjunction with a major change in comparison with the first half of the last decade: since 2014, non-OECD countries have achieved faster fuel economy improvements than the total of all OECD economies.”

Countries that are members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development are mostly developed economies. Though the light duty vehicles (LDVs) sold across them burn less fuel than those sold in non-OECD countries, GFEI said the popularity of large, heavy and powerful vehicles, particularly in the United States and Australia, where fuel use per kilometer traveled was greater than that outside OECD, held them back. Sales of LDVs in 2015 reached 88.5 million vehicles, with registrations of new LDVs almost evenly spit between OECD countries (51%) and non-OECD countries (49%).

The improvement may be lower than needed, but it is reassuring that the countries tracked by GFEI all made progress toward greater fuel efficiency. “Without exception, all countries showed an improvement in average fuel economy in 2015 compared with 2005. Over the past decade, the greatest progress (measured in terms of percentage improvement over 2005 values) occurred in Turkey, followed by the United Kingdom and Japan,” the initiative said, adding that the countries with best average fuel economy tended to have a higher proportion of LDV sales with lower power and displacement engines, lower weight and a smaller footprint.

It continued, “Country-level results, and in particular the large improvements in LDV fuel economy being achieved in the European Union and China, show that stronger action on the combined adoption of fuel economy policies (including regulatory instruments such as fuel economy standards) and fiscal incentives (such as vehicle taxes differentiated on the basis of emissions of CO2 per km) can deliver effective fuel economy improvements. This is especially important in a period characterized by a slowdown in fuel economy improvements in OECD countries.”

GFEI said policy actions measurable solely against text results would not close the gap in fuel economy between test and real-world driving conditions. To achieve greater accuracy and representativeness of tested fuel economy against real-world consumption, there is a need for a combination of on-road tests, similar to the real driving emissions test procedure for air pollutants, and in-use conformity tests of randomly selected production vehicles.