Under our noses: emissions performances and fuel economy

Under our noses: emissions performance and fuel economy
The following is a commentary written by Peter Boag, President and CEO of the Canadian Fuels Association, in March 2019. Published with permission from the Canadian Fuels Association.

The role and power of consumer choice in reducing GHG emissions is one of the key themes of our just-released annual Perspectives report – the Consumer Connection.  It’s a theme that I’ve visited a number of times over the past couple of years, for good reason. The consumer lens provides insight into significant opportunities to reduce transportation sector emissions by improving vehicle fuel efficiency and emissions performance.  

These opportunities were confirmed and reinforced by the US EPA’s 2018 Automotive Trends Report that landed on my desk this month. The report examines GHG emissions, fuel economy, technology data and auto manufacturers’ performance in meeting US GHG emissions standards (similar standards apply in Canada).  It’s a comprehensive look at data going back as far as 1975 and includes estimated real-world data. This is important because it captures a wider range of operating conditions that an average driver would encounter, beyond examining strict compliance data from mandatory lab tests.

The analysis concludes that estimated new vehicle and real-world CO2 emissions are at a record low, and fuel economy is at a record high.   

Between 2004 and 2017, CO2 emissions decreased 23 per cent and fuel economy increased 29 per cent.  In 11 of the past 13 years, new records were set for both emissions performance and fuel economy. Preliminary analyses of 2018 data show that improvements in emission's performance and fuel economy are expected to continue, and even accelerate. 

The report singles out the last five years as a period in which manufacturers have made significant improvements in fuel economy and CO2 emissions reductions. It also notes that all vehicle types – SUVs, vans, pick-ups and sedans – are at or near record low CO2 emissions and record high fuel economy.  

Since model year 2004, technology has enabled increased fuel economy and decreased emissions even as vehicle horsepower increased and vehicle weight remained stable. Consumers are no longer required to give up the performance attributes they value in order to achieve fuel economy and emission performance improvements. 

Manufacturers are adopting a wide array of advanced technologies to achieve these win-win results. Fuel saving engine technologies include turbo-charging, gasoline direct engine (GDI), cylinder deactivation, and stop/start systems. Transmissions with seven or more gears and continuously variable transmissions (CVT) transfer power to the wheels more efficiently and allow for more efficient engine operation. And yes, hybrids, EVs and fuel cell vehicles (FCV), while still a small part of the vehicle fleet, are a growing component of the technology mix.    

Consumers can today choose from an impressive array of advanced technology, fuel efficient vehicles that enable them to make a personal contribution to emissions reduction. They can now do that without compromising their vehicle type preferences or vehicle performance expectations. And, of course, improved fuel efficiency and lower emissions also saves money at the pump - savings that can help offset the cost of acquiring a new vehicle.

I encourage you to read the 2019 issue of Perspectives to learn more about the role of consumers in our transportation energy future.The publication includes Survive and Thrive, an article by Dennis DesRosiers about the impact that vehicle quality has on emissions reductions; Policy Shift – Consumers in Focus, an article that examines consumer behaviour and policy design, with contributing comments from University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management and the Behavioural Economics in action at Rotman (BEAR), the Conference Board of Canada, and others.