New Report on Cars and Carbon

The author of today’s post, John DeCicco, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow for Automobile Strategies at Environmental Defense.

How much carbon dioxide (CO2) are cars emitting, and is it getting better or worse? The answer is in our new report on Automakers’ Corporate Carbon Burdens. It’s the third in a series we began in 2002, and covers 1990-2005. Some findings of note:

  • Toyota and BMW have shown that it’s possible to cut the CO2 emissions rate while enjoying strong sales growth – a lesson to the other 10 automakers we examined, whose emissions rates all increased in 2005 compared to 1990. Automakers can significantly reduce carbon emissions through creative design and incremental enhancement of conventional technologies.
  • The average CO2 emissions rate from new vehicles fell 3 percent from 2004 to 2005 – the first drop in nearly two decades. We probably can thank high gas prices for this since it made new car buyers think about fuel efficiency. Gas-guzzling truck-based SUVs became less appealing, and this accelerated the shift to car-based SUVs with better fuel efficiency.

But we still have a long way to go. Despite the one year drop, the emissions rate remains 4 percent higher than it was in 1988.

The upward trend in average, per-vehicle CO2 emissions since 1988 is driven by three things:

  • The popularity of SUVs, which automakers classify as light trucks to lower the CAFE standard they’re required to meet.
  • Flexible Fuel Vehicle (FFV) credits that can be used to meet CAFE standards, even when the vehicles don’t actually use alternative fuels.
  • Lack of CAFE standards for heavier light trucks (8,500 to 10,000 pounds), which include large SUVs like the Hummer H2 and F250 pickups.

The report also tracks automakers’ overall "carbon burden", which reflects: (1) the efficiency of vehicles and the carbon intensity of the fuel they run on, and (2) the volume and mix of new vehicle sales. The carbon burden concept serves as a baseline for policymakers and automakers in developing reduction goals and strategies. An effective climate policy for the auto sector is one that results in lower carbon burdens – a reduction in total emissions.

For full details on emissions and sales for each of the carmakers, check out our report!

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  1. rwjonessr
    Posted September 4, 2007 at 5:13 pm | Permalink

    Our focus is wrong. Europe, England, France, Japan all have high speed inter/intra country rail systems. Dwight D Eisenhour mandate a Federally Funded highway system nationwide. Begetween opposeing lanse is/exists a green belt which would beare a high speed mono rail train system. In 1962 Japan had a train running on reverse magnetic polariy that would do 360 MPH. So you tell me!. Are the auto makers gonna change. NO!. Can we do this YES!
    We must mandate it and it will happen!. Clean, comfortable, and FAST. Imageine the jobs and material we could use doing this in a nationwide defined way?. It is our only way to reduce automobile co2 emission’s 30-35% within the next 5 years.

  2. Posted September 4, 2007 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    I agree that high speed rail is a great idea, but we’ll need both cleaner cars and car alternatives (including HSR and other innovations) to limit CO2 to climate protection levels.

  3. rwjonessr
    Posted September 4, 2007 at 6:29 pm | Permalink

    you are 100% correct, but each administraton come’s to the fight with a plan, and second plan how to get out of it (such as this would put people out of work to cap cap sales with lower CO2 emmissions) and it go’s on and on) It’s worse than health care, yet this is globally fatal!. If that is you have the good sense to understand it. We must ‘mandate’ and I mean pass ‘laws’ that make it necessar that it be done or else. The green belt between our iner/inra states are already state owned their is no property right’s to fight. It’s a matter of doing it, something like the old WPA at 63 almost 64 I want my grandchildren to not face an ice age. Bless you for your feedback.

  4. Bobby Jones
    Posted September 14, 2007 at 9:04 pm | Permalink

    Just this week in reaction to a bridge collapse over the Mississippi our dear government sent a major (another one) transportation bill in the billions of dollars out into the public aimed at making highway overpasses and bridges safe. This is a good thing. However, the 2 to 3 billion dollars of pure pork tied to the end of it just to keep the good old boy’s happy is a disgrace!. So long as our Senators and Congressmen, and yes the President reallize that the American people are looking at these bills will we ever get responsable legislative enactments. It hasn’t been too long that a bill was passed for our security, tied to the end of it was $77,000,000.00 to protect peanuts from terrorist attack!. Politics is a give and take process. However in this type of governmental nonsense American’s who work and pay the taxes are doing the giving and only the good Lord know’s to whom were giving the take.

  5. Posted January 27, 2010 at 11:42 pm | Permalink

    Hi there, I’m using Kubuntu Linux 9.0 and the Firefox 1.4.3 web browser, and your blog looks rather up. Might want to look into it. c-ya!