The Battle To Improve Fuel Economy And Reduce Emissions

Non-renewable fuels, rising oil prices and a global increase in demand, it’s no secret that manufacturers are collectively spending billions of dollars on research & development to make their cars more efficient, but are they succeeding or are they just throwing money at a problem without a solution?

The answer is both yes and no. Take a step back and let’s put things into perspective, consumers hate compromising, they want everything and who can blame them? Look at the automotive industry 10 years ago; big cars, big cabins and big performance, each out doing their predecessor. Now look at our market today, smaller cars, similar cabin size, similar performance, increased safety features and more creature comforts than ever before. So what does this mean? Older cars - simple but big and heavy; new cars - complex but small and still quite heavy. How does this play into the hands of fuel economy? It doesn’t. Cars are required to become technologically packed to meet certain expectations consumers have when buying a new car. Although manufacturers have made leaps and bounds in engine and drive train efficiency development, this doesn’t reflect in the reduction of fuel consumption as it should.

For example: The 2011 Toyota Corolla Ascent hatch (1.8L petrol engine and manual transmission) has an official combined fuel economy of 7.3L per 100km. Go back ten years to 2001 and the Corolla Ascent hatch (also with a 1.8L petrol engine and manual transmission) also had an official combined fuel economy figure of 7.3L per 100kms. Why no drop in economy? Well consider the newer model is 14cm longer in wheelbase, 7cm wider and 13cm higher in dimensions. The new engine is 17% more powerful and overall the 2011 model is far safer with an airbag count of 6 compared to 1 just 10 years earlier. Add in other things such as larger wheels, wider tyres and bigger brakes and it’s easy to see why the kerb weight has increased by 165 kilograms with no change in fuel economy.

This said, consumers are now more educated than ever and are aware of how carbon emissions and fuel economy have an impact on the environment around them. This knowledge allows room for a shift in consumer behaviour, with the option of purchasing vehicles that significantly reduce their environmental impact and fuel consumption. The next decade will see the launch of a variety of new technologies to cater for this behavioural change, including petrol hybrids, diesel hybrids, LPG hybrids and even an onslaught of electric only vehicles. Our market intelligence makes note of the influence product availability has on driving consumer choices, and although it may be a major driving force towards the uptake of “greener” vehicles, it’s not the only one.

Australia is one of the most competitive automotive markets in the world, and some say that we’re already at a point of saturation – even with the increase of vehicle registrations on our roads. Most of the rapidly growing vehicle segments are price sensitive, meaning that the premium cost of more economical and environmentally friendly vehicles will have little to no impact on sales in these segments. If this continues to be the case, there will be a substantial lag factor. The ability for manufacturers to provide an affordable option to consumers is the key element to rapidly reducing our carbon footprint and influencing a demand change in non-renewable fuels.

Increasing pressures from governmental policies, both internationally and locally, is and will continue to play a major role in enforcing a change for manufacturers to deliver cost effective solutions, but it can’t stop there. More proactive measures need to be taken, market forecasts are a must and a planned roadmap to meet an agreed CO2 emission target somewhat 10 to 15 years from now needs to be signed off. The next few years are critical, and leave much to be answered before we can safely say; we’re on the right track.