UMTRI study finds US and China could turnover more than 90% of LDV fleet to alternative powertrains by 2050 under very aggressive penetration scenarios

Turnover of the US fleet under the three models of penetration. The circles represent the year in which new vehicle sales equal 100% alternative powertrains/fuel. Source: Belzowski and McManus. Click to enlarge.

The US and China—as well as Western Europe, Japan and Brazil—could turnover more than 90% of their vehicle fleets to alternative powertrain/fuel models by 2050 under very aggressive models (or levels) of penetration, according to a report by Bruce Belzowski and Walter McManus at the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute (UMTRI).

In their study, they used three different alternative powertrain/fuel models: less aggressive, moderately aggressive and very aggressive, applied across four developed economies (United States, Western Europe, Japan, and South Korea) and four developing economies (Brazil, Russia, India, and China). A less aggressive approach yielded fleet turnover rates of 60% or more for most countries, while a moderately aggressive approach yielded fleet turnover rates of more than 80% for most countries.

The analysis of fleet turnover was based on the following steps:

  1. Establish a light-duty vehicle growth rate for each country;
  2. Establish a scrappage rate for each country;
  3. Establish a vehicle-in-use estimate for years 2010 to 2050 for each country;
  4. Establish a vehicle sales estimate for years 2010 to 2050 for each country;
  5. Establish three levels or models of penetration of alternative powertrains/fuels into each country’s fleet for the years 2010 to 2050. Production forecasts from IHS Global Insight for powertrains/fuels for each country formed the basis for a moderately aggressive model for penetration of alternative powertrains/fuels into each country’s new vehicle fleet from 2010 to 2020. For 2020 to 2050, the UMTRI team then used their knowledge of past and current country policy, the current growth of alternative powertrains/fuels, and the recent sales growth to estimate the continued growth of alternative powertrains/fuels in new vehicles until alternative powertrains/fuels reach 100%of new-vehicle penetration. Using the moderately aggressive model as a baseline, they developed a less aggressive model and a very aggressive model of penetration;
  6. Establish vehicles-in-use, scrappage, and sales estimates for vehicles in the fleet using the old technology/fuels and vehicles using the alternative powertrains/fuels; and
  7. Establish the percentage of vehicles-in-use using alternative powertrains/fuels for 2010 to 2050.
Turnover of the Chinese fleet. Click to enlarge.

Their definition for alternative powertrains/fuels eliminates pure gasoline and diesel powertrains/fuels, but does include hybridization of those fuels. Possible alternative powertrains/fuels include: CNG; CNG/diesel hybrid; Diesel/electric hybrid; Gasoline/electric hybrid;Gasoline/CNG hybrid; Gasoline/liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) hybrid; Pure electric; Ethanol (E85); Ethanol (E85)/electric hybrid; Hydrogen; and Fuel cell vehicles.

Overall fleet turnover to alternative powertrains
FleetPercent of fleet turned over by 2050
Less aggressiveModerately aggressiveVery aggressive
United States 77% 84% 93%
Western Europe 69% 83% 90%
Japan 72% 88% 93%
South Korea 60% 80% 87%
Brazil 95% 98% 99%
Russia 64% 75% 83%
India 36% 51% 68%
China 82% 92% 99%

A US Department of Energy program manager recently stated that when introducing a new automotive powertrain technology into a developed market such as the United States, it takes 20 years to bring it to the market, 20 years to get all the old technology out of all the vehicles, and a minimum of 30 years to get the full benefits of the introduction (P. Davis, personal communication, February 20, 2010). The governments, the energy companies, and the auto companies all understand that they will have years to adjust to the evolution to alternative powertrains/fuels, but the challenge of turning over an entire fleet is daunting to even evolutionary thinking. Our analysis of fleet turnover in this report shows the challenge of fleet turnover to alternative powertrains/fuels that include some of the fuels that countries are trying to displace (e.g. hybrid engines that use gasoline or diesel fuel). Eliminating hybrids from the equation would make the transition to alternative powertrains/fuels possibly a 75 to 100 year venture!

...We also see that if countries take a less aggressive approach to turning over their fleet to alternative powertrains/fuels than they have currently stated, many of them will still be very dependent on foreign oil by 2050. Most countries can, with a moderately aggressive approach, turn over most of their fleets, and most of the countries that take a very aggressive approach can meet such a goal by 2050. Yet even in the automotive industry with its long lead times for vehicle development, 40 years is a long time. However, when countries demand that automotive companies introduce new technologies that reduce dependence on foreign oil or reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this is exactly the type of timeframe they must consider.

In order to succeed in this endeavor, a country must be steadfast in moving towards its goal. Consistent policies over a long period of time can make the turnover process more efficient, allowing all the parties involved (governments, energy companies, auto companies, and consumers) time to adjust to the change taking place.

—Belzowski and McManus

The report was sponsored by The University of Michigan and by the research consortium Sustainable Worldwide Transportation. Current members of this research consortium are: Autoliv Electronics; Bosch; FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society; General Motors; Honda R&D Americas; Nissan Technical Center North America; and Toyota Motor Engineering and Manufacturing North America.


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