Getting To 100% Zero Emissions By 2050 Means Starting Now.

zero emissions timeline

One of the goals we heard a lot about during the Paris climate change summit this month was transitioning to 100% zero emissions cars by the year 2050. That seems like such a long way off, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s not. Matthew Stevens is an engineer who has writes for FleetCarma. In a recent article, he explains why it takes so long for goals set today to become reality. He says it can take up to 18 years before changes mandated by a regulation that takes effect today get included in 50% of the cars on the road.

The way Stevens explains it, the answer is simple.  The average car on the road in America is 11.4 years old. That means it will take almost 6 years to replace half the cars on the road with cars that have the latest and greatest features. Manufacturers take 2 to 3 years to design a new car. After the design is approved, it takes another few years to line up suppliers and make the modifications to assembly lines the new design will require. If the process began today, by the time the new cars were designed, agreements with suppliers made and changes to the factories made, it would be 2019.

But cars don’t all get redesigned at the same time. The typical model is replaced every 5 to 6 years. The first new models would be ready for 2019, but all the cars in a manufacturers portfolio would not incorporate the required changes untio 2025. Add in the 6 years it takes to replace half the cars on the road today and we are suddenly at 2031.

And that assumes all the technology to comply with the regulation is out of the lab and ready for manufacture. When it comes to zero emissions vehicles, the technology is still in its infancy. The upshot is, a child born today will be ready to graduate from high school before a change in vehicle technology mandated today gets built in to half the cars on the road. For the change to affect all cars, add yet another 6 year. Hello, 2037!

All this means that if the world is going to hit its target of 100% zero emissions cars by 2050, it has about 13 years to perfect battery technology and control systems, complete the build out of the electric car charging infrastructure and get the price of ZEV cars down to the point where ordinary drivers can afford to buy them. Does it seem likely or even possible all that can be accomplished in so short a time? Only if we get started right away. The world can’t wait.

Image credit: FleetCarma


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.