autoPOLIS report suggests tackling automotive environmental and energy problems from the market end first, rather than by technology push; need for a new transportation model

Wormald
Wormald’s roadmap to an 80% reduction in automotive GHG by 2050. Source: Wormald 2011. Click to enlarge.

Addressing automotive environmental and energy supply problems would be better done by working from the market end first, rather than through technology push, according to a recent report by Dr John Wormald, Managing Partner of autoPOLIS, an automotive consultancy.

The report, “Hot, thirsty and crowded: are the New Vehicle Technologies the Answer?”, starts by stipulating that the automotive industry globally has been a “runaway success”, with the current parc of some 800 million units to expand to some 2 billion by the year 2050. However, Wormald notes, “We are now running into physical limits to the growth of motorized mobility.”

The planet is getting hotter and hotter, because of man-made emissions of greenhouse gases, notably CO2. The growing vehicle parc is the largest consumer of crude oil, which is starting to run out. The highway infrastructure is increasingly saturated, with a decreasing appetite for building new roads.

There will ultimately have to be a new transportation model. This will clearly have to be consistent with the new energy infrastructures and these cannot come about quickly. It will have to be integrated into the new habitats and be consistent with them, which is a long-term project. It will be solution-based, by which I mean sets of transport offerings, not just selling people cars and letting them get on with it. It will be systems-led. This sounds like another innocuous platitude but the implications are profound, in terms of who has access to, and control over, the market. New technologies will be deployed, and not just on board the vehicles. There will very likely be a new set of leaders, different from the vehicle manufacturers of today.

...serious negative externalities have moved in on the industry. The supply risks inherent to a non-diversified primary energy source—98% of road vehicles are propelled by petroleum-based fuels—are beginning to be felt again, as they were during the Oil Shocks of 1973-4 and 1979. There are serious supply-side inelasticies in the oil industry, which cause wild fluctuations in the price of oil. We have a non-transparent and volatile oil market, not helped by the lack of scrutiny over the national oil companies within OPEC. There are the obvious geopolitical tensions. And, lastly, the fact is, the internal combustion engine is not that good on tank-to-wheels (TTW) efficiency in transients. Which is why we need those increasingly complex transmissions and ever more sophisticated driveline controls.

—“Hot, thirsty and crowded”

While electrification is generating much excitement in the industry today, Wormald notes, the catch is that electricity is difficult to store in any quantity; hydrogen fuel cells remain very costly and require a new generation and distribution infrastructure; and carrier energy has to be generated from primary energy sources. That latter point is where the problems lie, Wormald says.

...the Electrification Coalition wants 75% of US vehicle miles traveled per year to be electric by 2040. This would require an extremely rapid build-up of the EV + PHEV parc, to reach 75% by the same date. To get there means that 90% of new vehicle sales would have to be EV + PHEV by 2030. This is plainly unrealistic. The real motivation is geo-political, to eliminate US dependence on imported oil, with no regard for the environmental consequences. Blow the tops off all those mountains in Appalachia, burn that coal!

—“Hot, thirsty and crowded”

“China may have to lead the way, given the problems it faces with the environment and energy supply.”

Wormald suggests that the current enthusiasm for EVs is a poor choice of time and circumstance. Although seriously disadvantaged in the short term, EVs will likely come into their own “later on”. Short term advantages to EVs include zero tailpipe emissions (which, however, are only being transferred to the power station); silence; regenerative braking, which is limited by battery charging rates; and energy cost (with no one mentioning that electricity is much less taxed than are motor fuels).

The short-term disadvantages are severe, Wormald says: cost (which leasing can disguise but not change, like a sub-prime mortgage); complete uncertainty about residuals (which makes leasing risky for its providers); limited range; long recharging times; and limited charging point networks.

Long-term, it could all reverse: the match to decarbonized and intelligent electricity supply is potentially very beneficial; petroleum-based fuels will become scarce and expensive at some point in time; EVs could form the basis for quite new transportation systems. The uncertainties perhaps have less to do with technology than with the availability, cost and timing of alternative primary energy sources. The fossil and renewable energies cost curves will cross, but at lower volumes and higher prices than people like to think, and not all that soon.

—“Hot, thirsty and crowded”

Selecting the short-term disadvantage of limited range as an example, Wormald suggests that the range problem can be overcome, if consumers accept specialization of vehicles by role.

We have become accustomed to buying cars for their universality, rather than being the best fit for a specific use, which becomes possible with multiple car ownership. The key is to get people to use smaller cars for commuting and shopping trips, rather than buying the largest they can afford.

—“Hot, thirsty and crowded”

Wormald suggests a three-stage market-focused roadmap to reach an 80% reduction in automotive GHG by 2050:

  1. 20% GHG reduction in 5–10 years. Stage 1 involves existing technologies but smaller, slower vehicles, some limited modal shifts and modest restrictions on driving.

  2. 50% GHG reduction in 10–20 years. Stage 2 entails strong specialization of vehicles—individual, shared and public—which opens the door to EVs and matches decarbonization of electricity better, with new transportation packages and more planning and control of transport networks and infrastructure.

  3. 80% reduction 20-50 years out. Stage 3 involves new habitats and mobility habits, and a decoupling of mobility from GDP growth.

Ultimately, in Stage 3, we have to control the demand for mobility itself, through habitats such as those, which already exists in Freiburg-im-Breisgau in the Black Forest, where housing is high-density and energy efficient. It is close to the town center and linked to it by efficient and convenient public transport. It offers a far more neighborly and civilized form of life than spread-out suburbs, wholly dependent on motorization. In crowded Asia, it is in fact the only realistic option.

We cannot entirely dispense with individual motorized mobility but we can maintain it in a much more sustainable form, through new systems approaches.

—“Hot, thirsty and crowded”

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