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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Seven years ago this month, while I was at Rainforest Action Network, we were working with several hundred California residents who were fighting to prevent their electric cars from being seized, crushed and sold for scrap. These vehicles were fully functioning, economical and, because they were electric, didn't use a drop of gas. Yet they were being pulled off the roads by major automakers—over the objections of the people who loved driving them. We didn't save all those cars back in 2005, but we did see more clearly than ever that if we want to move America beyond oil, then we need to jump-start the American auto industry.
Fortunately, times have changed. Today, I testified at an U.S. EPA hearing in San Francisco to support proposed standards that would raise vehicle efficiency to 54.5 miles per gallon, with electric vehicles as one of the primary ways to meet this goal. Here's my brief testimony....
Good morning, everyone. Welcome to California. I'm Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club. The Sierra Club is our nation's largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization. We were founded by John Muir, who sought to defend Yosemite Valley and help create and expand Yosemite National Park. Today, nearly 120 years later, the Sierra Nevada range—like every other ecosystem in America—is suffering from the impacts of climate destabilization. It's just one reason why these standards are so important.
I want to thank EPA and NHTSA for the opportunity to testify today. I appreciate the incredible amount of work you and your staffs have put in along with California's Air Resources Board to make these historic standards possible.
I'm here today because our dangerous addiction to oil is threatening our quality of life by draining our wallets at the gas pump, polluting our air, and devastating our climate. Every day, we send nearly $1 billion overseas for foreign oil—wasting money that should be fueling American innovation and investment in growing industries like clean energy. Our oil addiction fuels the climate disruption that is increasing the number and intensity of severe droughts and devastating storms. It also puts our troops at risk around the world, and our families' health and security at risk here at home.
That's why these new fuel efficiency and carbon pollution standards for new cars and light trucks are such a big deal. President Obama's proposal to double the efficiency of America's cars and light trucks is the biggest single step we've ever taken to move America beyond oil. In 2025, American families will get to buy cars and light trucks that average 54.5 miles-per-gallon, and emit no more than 163 grams per mile of carbon pollution.
That's a big win for all Americans. To put this in perspective, the average family buying a new car in 2025 will save more than $3,500 at the pump—even after paying for fuel-saving technology. In 2030, Americans will use 1.5 million fewer barrels of oil every day, the same amount we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq in 2010, and cut carbon pollution by an amount equivalent to shutting down 72 coal-fired power plants for a year.
The shift we have seen over the past few years in our auto industry is worthy of recognition. The United Auto Workers—the backbone of the American manufacturing industry—strongly supports these standards, as do Ford, GM, Chrysler, and the other major automakers. The industry is already enjoying a rebound, with new jobs in Michigan and across the Midwest; by 2030 these standards could create nearly half a million jobs across the country.
Here in California, we've been paving the way for cleaner cars for nearly a decade. I'm proud to live in a state that has led the nation in cutting pollution from cars—from the pollution that compromises our health and our right to breathe healthy air to the pollution the threatens our climate. California pioneered the first-ever tailpipe standards for greenhouse gases, putting its authority and the Clean Air Act to work. It took years of litigation and 13 other states joining our state's clean cars program before we finally created the momentum at the national level to raise the national standards that had been stuck since the 1970s.
For more than twenty years, the Sierra Club and its members have pushed for stronger fuel-efficiency standards that will help America break its oil addiction. Already more than 20,000 of our members have sent in their comments, and more than a hundred of our members have testified at these hearings. We are committed to help educate members of the public about the benefits of buying the most efficient vehicle that meets their family's needs. The Sierra Club will also continue working to ensure that all Americans have more and better transportation choices—by making walking and biking safer and increasing our access to transit.
As a father of two young kids, I'm relieved to know that the cars they'll drive in the years to come will use much less oil and emit less pollution. The reality is, these standards are strong, and they need to be stronger. Dirty oil pollutes our air, our water, and our atmosphere. And as we've seen over the past couple of elections, Big Oil cash pollutes our democracy. We look forward to working with President Obama, along with your agencies, to ensure that the Administration finalizes strong standards this July that will deliver the strongest possible benefits to American families and workers through 2025 and beyond. Thank you.
I had my say today, but you can still tell the U.S. EPA and NHTSA what you think about stronger fuel economy standards here.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
We haven't even made it out of January, but 2012 is already shaping up as a watershed year in the fight to end our addiction to oil.
The big news, of course, was President Obama's decision not to approve the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. It was politically brave on the president's part, but it's also a huge symbol of the growing recognition that what's good for Big Oil has nothing to do with what's good for America and that the sooner we can separate oil and state, the better.
It's not just environmentalists who understand this—it's everyone from labor (the United Steelworkers, United Auto Workers and Transport Workers unions were just some of those that opposed the pipeline) to Nebraska ranchers to young people concerned about reckless climate-disrupting carbon pollution.
So kudos again to the Obama administration for standing up to intense pressure from what is still the wealthiest industry on the planet.
It's fantastic that we've stopped what once looked like an unstoppable pipeline, but let's not forget that if we really want to move our country beyond oil, we need to do more than just stop bad things—we have to move forward on good things, too. Fortunately, this year the Obama administration also plans to make one particularly good thing happen: setting a new average fuel-economy standard of 54.5 mpg for cars and trucks by 2030.
That translates to using 1.5 million fewer barrels of oil per day by 2030—as much oil as we imported from Saudi Arabia and Iraq combined last year. The cumulative amount of carbon pollution eliminated would be a staggering 6 billion metric tons over the life of the program—the equivalent to one year of current U.S. CO2 emissions. It will be the single biggest thing any nation has done to address climate pollution—and the biggest step yet toward moving America beyond oil.
On Tuesday, Jan. 24, I'll be among those speaking in San Francisco at the third and last of three public hearings on the new fuel standards (the others were in Detroit and Philadelphia). The public's invited, so come if you can. If you can't be there, you can comment online, instead.
Detroit was a fitting venue for a hearing because these new standards are enthusiastically supported by not just consumers and environmental groups but also by autoworkers and automobile manufacturers (thirteen of them, including the Big Three). In fact, the Sierra Club will be holding a press event and rally across the street from the San Francisco hearings at the Longshoreman's Hall (400 North Point St.). If you're in the Bay Area, join us at noon. Lots of our partners in labor, public health, and consumer protection will be there, and we'll have a few electric vehicles and super high-efficiency vehicles, as well as some special guests from city government.
Of course, many battles lie ahead—Big Oil won't give up easily and still has plenty of political clout. But it's hard not to feel optimistic on the heels of a huge victory and the verge of a historic breakthrough.
On Jan. 17 in Detroit, the headquarters of major U.S. automakers, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) held public hearings on a landmark and broadly supported proposal to provide cleaner, more fuel efficient cars for America.
The hearing is the first of three that will allow for public input on proposed fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions standards for model years 2017-2025 passenger vehicles. Hilary Sinnamon will testify in favor of the historic proposal for Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
“Cleaner, more efficient cars are a triple play for Americans,” said Sinnamon. “They’ll help reduce our dependence on imported oil, save families money at the gas pump, and reduce dangerous air pollution. This is an opportunity to improve both our economy and our environment in one step; that’s why the auto industry, labor unions and environmentalists are all supporting it.”
You can read Sinnamon’s full testimony here.
The proposed standards call for fleet-wide average performance comparable to 54.5 miles per gallon, or 163 grams per mile of carbon dioxide, by model year 2025.
Together with the model year 2012-2016 clean car standards finalized in 2010, the light duty fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas program is expected to reduce oil consumption by an estimated 12 billion barrels, cut heat-trapping carbon dioxide pollution by over 6 billion metric tons, and provide $1.7 trillion in national fuel savings over the life of the program.
America’s fleet of cars and light trucks now consumes more than 360 million gallons of fuel per day and emits about 20 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution. Under the new standards, we will reduce our oil consumption by an estimated 2.2 million barrels a day by 2025—more than our daily 2010 oil imports from the entire Persian Gulf.
The new standards will also put money back in consumers’ pockets. Based on the projected fuel savings from the proposal, owners could save more than $4,000 over the life of their new car or truck. Those fuel savings will offset higher vehicle costs in less than four years, and consumers who buy a vehicle with a typical five year loan will see immediate savings of about $12 a month.
The proposal already has broad support from such widespread groups as auto manufacturers, United Auto Workers, small businesses, American consumers, veterans and military groups, economists, and environmental advocates—including EDF.
For more information, click here.
Environmental Defense Fund, a leading national nonprofit organization, creates transformational solutions to the most serious environmental problems. EDF links science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships.
Today, cars and trucks are nearly everywhere. In the U.S., there are more automobiles than there are licensed drivers to drive them.
Altogether, the planet is home to more than a billion vehicles of all sorts, and experts predict that by 2020 there will be more than two billion, of which half will be automobiles.
Smog, carbon pollution and oil dependence
These cars and trucks, as helpful as they are in moving people and cargo, also create a range of environmental challenges. In the U.S., on-road vehicles contribute about a third of the country’s smog-producing air pollution. The transportation sector is responsible for approximately 27 percent of America’s greenhouse gas emissions.
It is also a leading cause of America’s dependence on oil and consumes about 70 percent of the oil we use in this country. More than half of that is consumed by cars and trucks.
Threat to water and wildlife
Vehicles also contribute to water pollution through the oil and other fluids they leak onto roadways—fluids that inevitably wash off into storm drains, rivers and bays.
The nearly 4 million miles of public streets and highways in this country have eaten into wildlife habitat, and where wildlife still exists, those roads create migration impediments and hazards.
One survey found 21 listed threatened species were under greatest threat from road impacts.
Our goal—to make engines cleaner and safer
Our challenge is to find solutions to make those cars and trucks and other vehicles less polluting, and the way we use them less damaging to the planet.
What will it take to cure our dangerous and unhealthy addiction to oil and reduce the threat of runaway global warming?
Stronger fuel economy and greenhouse gas standards for American cars and trucks are essential—and your email right now to the Obama administration supporting their landmark new standards for cleaner cars and trucks can help us all take a huge step forward.
Public comments are due by Feb. 13. Take action today—stand up for better gas mileage, less oil and a safer climate future.
Thank you for your activism and support.
For more information, click here.