Our Latest Automaker Rankings: What the Industry Needs to do to Keep Moving Forward
By Dave Cooke
Every few years, the Union of Concerned Scientists takes a look at the auto industry's emission reduction progress as part of our Automaker Rankings series of reports.
This year's analysis, based on model year (MY) 2017 vehicles, shows that the industry has once again reached the lowest levels yet in both smog-forming and global warming emissions from new vehicles, despite the fact that many off-the-shelf technologies are deployed in less than one-third of all new vehicles. Unfortunately, this record-setting trend in progress also shows some indications of slowing down, with Ford and Hyundai-Kia showing no progress towards reducing global warming emissions, and Toyota actually moving backwards.
At the same time, the industry spearheaded an effort to re-litigate fuel economy and emissions standards set through 2025, and this report comes out while a proposal from the current administration responding to their request that would completely halt progress in the industry at 2020 levels sits awaiting public release. Therefore, while this year's Automaker Rankings highlights some of the progress made by leaders in the industry to move forward on the technology front, it's also critical that on the political front these companies stand up to the administration to ensure the rest of the industry continues to move forward on reducing emissions.
The Technology to Meet Future Standards is Out There
For me, one of the key takeaways I had from this report is that while standards have in many cases accelerated the deployment of new technologies, some of the most cost-effective strategies to reduce emissions are still sitting on the shelf. The industry's progress to-date is barely a glimpse of where gasoline-powered vehicles could be in the future as shown in the figure below.
While vehicle standards have led to significant growth in a number of technologies, even many of the most cost-effective technologies to lower emissions have been deployed in only a small fraction of the fleet, leaving plenty of room for further reductions.
On top of this, many of the deployed technologies, like advanced transmissions, still have significant incremental progress that can be made. We're also seeing novel developments in other technologies like start-stop, where we are beginning in 2018 to see the deployment of higher-voltage (48V) systems that can result in complementary technology such as electric boost and again continue to push out the horizon for combustion engine improvements. For this and many other reasons, it's baffling to see the industry assert that meeting 2025 vehicle standards requires widespread vehicle electrification.
No More Greenest Automaker
Of course, electric vehicles are one of the reasons for a key difference in this year's report: we are now including the results of all automakers, not just those largest companies who sell vehicles of all sizes and types. A lot of the development for some of the technologies that could pave the way to a lower-emissions future are coming from some of the smallest manufacturers, whether that's Tesla's all-electric fleet or Mazda's SkyActiv-X spark-assisted charge compression engine, which looks to bring diesel-like operation to a gasoline engine. Ignoring this leadership from smaller automakers would be ignoring some of the most forward-looking technology deployment in the industry.
Additionally, it's important to recognize that this report is limited to the emissions of the vehicles sold by manufacturers—it does not consider other aspects of operations which also affect the sustainability and "greenness" of a company, whether that's related to water use at its facilities, renewable power sourcing or other aspects of the manufacture and distribution of a manufacturer's fleet.
Considering these two central limitations, we have decided to no longer award a "Greenest Automaker." It's important to recognize the wide difference between the emissions from the fleet of Honda, who has again asserted its leadership to provide the lowest emission fleet from full-line automakers, and Fiat Chrysler, who finds itself producing a fleet better only than McLaren, Ferrari and Aston Martin—automakers who produce only exotic sports cars meant more for a track than a highway—but that is only part of the story.
The Gap Between Leaders and Laggards is Huge and Pervades All Vehicle Classes
One of the reasons we have previously ignored small manufacturers is that they provide a narrow spectrum of vehicles—and it's been a historic complaint from companies like Ford that they should get a pass because people want big trucks. But one of the key findings from this year is that the Detroit Three fall to the bottom of the pack not because they sell big trucks, but because in virtually all classes of vehicles they sell, their cars and trucks emit more than the rest of the industry. And the reverse is true for a company like Honda.
Honda is the manufacturer with the lowest emissions because it invests broadly in improvements across its entire fleet. Similarly, the Detroit Three don't perform poorly because they sell a lot of trucks—they perform poorly because their vehicles emit more than the industry average in most classes of vehicle.
The only company whose ranking is significantly affected by the mix of vehicles they sell is Toyota—but that was an intentional decision on their part. They chose to boost production of their least efficient vehicles, trucks and SUVs, while at the same time bypassing investment in improving those vehicles. If they want to catapult back to the top of the pack, they'll need more than the Prius to make them look like a leader—it's about providing consumers lower emission choices across the entire spectrum of vehicles sold.
A Path Forward
With every Automaker Rankings, we try to provide the industry with a path forward. And the truth is, the engineers at these companies have been working their butts off to provide a bright future for the industry ... should they choose to embrace it.
Manufacturers have made a number of pronouncements about the vehicles planned over the next five years which could easily end up keeping emissions levels on the path envisioned under the 2025 standards now on the books. And we have tried to highlight the role these vehicles can play in creating a more sustainable transportation future.
But too many within the industry have been looking to ignore their role in getting to this low-emissions future, so the question remains: Will the industry accelerate toward a cleaner future by following their engineers, or continue to deploy their lobbyists to slam on the brakes?
Dave Cooke is a senior vehicles analyst in the Clean Vehicles Program, specializing in both light- and heavy-duty fuel economy.
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.