AutoBlog Op-Ed Calls For Fresh Approach To Auto Emissions

Let’s say the federal government mandated all new cars must get 100 miles per gallon tomorrow. How long would it be before every car on the road met the new standard? 2040, says AutoBlog senior editor John McElroy. That’s because most new cars today won’t be headed to the scrap yard until 25 years from now. McElroy has the novel idea that dealing effectively with auto emissions shouldn’t focus on new cars. To be most effective, it should target older cars first.

Traffic has a huge impact on auto emissions

A year ago, a study conducted by researchers at the University of Toronto found that 90% of all pollution from automobiles comes from just 25% of the cars on the road. In almost every instance, those high polluting cars are older models. Instead of raising standards on new cars — which have the lowest emissions already — let’s make changes to older cars, the ones that are contributing most heavily to carbon dioxide and particulate emissions.

McElroy writes, “Next year automakers and regulators will sit down to review CAFE to determine if those rules need to be modified. I think a change is needed. The current strategy is not working to plan. Doubling down on that strategy is not going to change buyer behavior. Why not come up with an approach that will cost a lot less money and produce results a whole lot sooner?”

That seems like a smart idea. What is recommending, specifically? “We need to use our road infrastructure more efficiently,” McElroy suggests. “A study from the US Department of Transportation shows that by simply timing traffic lights properly we could reduce fuel consumption by 5 million gallons a day. In the grand scheme of things that’s only a drop in the bucket, but in this case every drop adds up.

“Connected car technology could make this all the easier. It could display the proper speed you need to drive to get only green lights. Best of all, much of this technology can be retrofitted to older cars using smart phones. Reducing the amount of stop-and-go traffic could have a dramatic impact. A lot of research has gone into this. While the results can be mixed, one study from the University of California, Riverside, found that traffic congestion increases fuel consumption 80 percent, both from stop-and-go driving and from vehicles spending more time on the road. Eighty percent is a lot!”

Most of the systems McElroy wants are already available on smartphones today. Apps can divert us around traffic jams and construction sites. Signalling systems could open or close lanes of traffic on our highways to speed the flow of traffic when needed. “More roundabouts would process more traffic and do it more efficiently.” McElroy writes. Dash cams and cameras mounted to rear view mirrors could advise drivers how to guide themselves through traffic snarls or even avoid them altogether.

There’s a real disconnect between what the regulators want and what the public is buying, McElroy says. Car buyers are avoiding all the fancy new hybrids. plug-in hybrids, electric, and fuel cell cars automakers are hoping will meet government regulations. Combined, only 3% of all new cars fall into the category of “alternative fuel vehicle.”

McElroy thinks the problem is only going to get worse. As regulations get more stringent, the average cost of new cars will go up accordingly, making buyers even less inclined to purchase the cars that will help reduce overall emissions. That means people will hold onto their cars even longer than they do now.

To put it in terms everyone can understand, McElroy says regulators are looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope. Is he right? Tell us what you think in the comments section.

Photo credit: AutoBlog



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.