By Erik Kirschbaum
BERLIN (Reuters) September 12, 2011 -
Electric cars and hybrids may be capturing headlines and the
imagination of green-leaning consumers around the world as one
automaker after another announces plans to push into the brave new
world of fossil fuel-free mobility.
But away from the spotlight, carmakers have been quietly
delivering significant cuts in CO2 emissions with some
re-engineering of internal combustion engines, technology advances,
weight reduction and aerodynamic improvements.
Increasingly stringent fuel economy standards in Europe and the
United States that were mandated due to climate change concerns
have been the main catalyst. Yet with rising fuel prices and a
waxing awareness of global warming, consumers have also been
clamoring for more fuel-efficient vehicles.
"Carmakers have finally gotten the message and have made a good
start in making cuts in CO2 emissions but only after they were
forced to," said Dorothee Saar, an industry analyst at the German
Environmental Aid Association (DUH) in Berlin ahead of the
Frankfurt international car show starting on Tuesday.
Cars are responsible for about 10
percent of the world's greenhouse gas emissions, which most
scientist believe are responsible for climate change that could
lead to rising sea levels, more powerful storms, droughts and
"Before 2008 they had only voluntary targets that were largely
ignored. They're moving forward now because they know if they don't
cut emissions they'll pay heavy fines. They're doing better but
there is still a lot of untapped potential."
In the European Union, CO2 emissions fell 3.7 percent last year
to 140 grams per kilometer after dropping 5.1 percent in 2009.
Average emissions are down from 186 grams in 1995. The EU is on
track to meet a 130 grams target by 2015 set in 2008 in the face of
heavy resistance. The limit will be 98 grams in 2020.
In the United States, notorious around the world for its gas
guzzlers, the Obama administration announced plans in August to
raise fuel economy requirements by 53 percent by 2025. The proposal
requires companies to reach an average fuel efficiency across their
U.S. fleets of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
"The industry has done what they have agreed to with the CO2
reduction goals but the problem is that they are aiming at moving
targets," said Philippe Houchois, car industry analyst at UBS in
London. "The CO2 targets get tougher all the time.
"Everyone has made good progress because they have to with the
regulations," he added. "There are no obvious laggards. But as the
requirements continue to move, they are going to have to have sell
more electric cars to be able to meet the targets."