Feature Report: The Shift Toward Cleaner Motor Vehicles

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Cleaner Motor Vehicles: The Challenges Involved

Road transportation is increasing globally and the number of vehicles worldwide is projected to double over the next 30 years. Carmakers and energy companies have been working for many years to make road transportation less dependent on petroleum products.

The car remains the most widely used means to travel (weekend, holidays ...)
Many people around the world still want to use a car for commuting, weekends away and vacations. ©AFP PHOTO / PHILIPPE DESMAZES

A few key figures illustrate the significant challenges involved: there are 1 billion cars, vans and pickup trucks on the road worldwide, a figure that is projected to double over the next 30 years. In emerging markets, the number of vehicles on the road is forecast to quadruple by 2030. A massive 97% of global road transportation is carried out by vehicles that use petroleum-based fuels, such as dieselDiesel is the name of an internal combustion engine that works by compression-ignition... , gasoline and LPGAutogas refers to liquefied petroleum gas, or LPG (see definition), used as a fuel for cars... . And today, half of the world’s crude oilOil that has not been refined. supply is used for transportation, compared with one-third in 1973.

This remarkable growth primarily reflects a legitimate desire among people in many countries to own a motor vehicle. While France has 600 vehicles per 1,000 people, China — which became the world’s largest car manufacturer in 2011 — has fewer than 50 and India, fewer than 20. The development of international trade, particularly in Europe, has also spurred an increase in goods transportation by road. Vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel will continue to dominate the market for the foreseeable future; they are inexpensive and reliable, and the fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... distribution infrastructure is already well developed.

Actions therefore need to be taken to:

  • Reduce reliance on crude oil, which — even if significant reserves are still available — is a finite resource whose price is expected to increase over the long term.
  • Limit carbon emissions, which are widely recognized as contributing to climate change. Transportation accounts for one-third of total carbon emissions in the European Union, even though it is one of the regions leading the fight against climate change.

Some experts believe that, by 2050, two-thirds of the cars on the road will run on petroleum-based fuels and one-third will be powered by non-petroleum fuels1.

50% of crude oil is used for transportation

Maintaining Performance, Safety and Price

The success of this transition depends first and foremost on developing vehicles that are less reliant on fossil fuels. That means improving the engines and fuels currently in use and developing alternative technologies, such as electric powertrains, to reduce consumption by 30 to 40%.

In addition, these improvements need to be achieved without lowering engine performance or vehicle comfort, compromising safety and making the price of the vehicle prohibitive.

The fuel consumption of internal combustion engine vehicles, which run on conventional fuels, has already been reduced dramatically, with some small, series-produced models using just over 4 liters per 100 kilometers. Hybridization, where an internal combustion engine is combined with an electric motor, is the best way to reduce fuel consumption even further, to around 2 liters per 100 kilometers. All-electric powertrains, on the other hand, are already being used in small vehicles and are particularly suited to urban and suburban driving. At the same time, the diversification of automotive fuels has picked up pace, with the addition of biofuelA fuel produced from plant or animal matter. There are currently two types of biofuel... and the use of natural gas.

The number of motor vehicles in the world is forecast to double over the next 30 years.

A Slow Process

Regardless of the type of engine or technological innovation, change is slow in the automotive industry in general, for several reasons.

Motor vehicles have a relatively long useful life — around 10 years in Europe and at least 15 years in Africa — and only a small percentage are replaced each year.

Car manufacturing is a highly competitive and very capital intensive mass-production industry. It is therefore vital that production lines are depreciated over time, and changing models is expensive for the manufacturer. It also takes several years for a new prototype to be ready for commercial-scale production.

Vehicle use demands a significant amount of infrastructure, including fuel distribution networks. The introduction of electric vehicles, for example, requires the installation of an extensive network of charging stations, as well as significant powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output... generation capacity and a distribution network organization that matches to the new needs associated with electric powertrains.

And for many people, using a car is a habit. Consumer needs are influenced by where we live and work and the public transportation options available to us. And consumers themselves see cars not only as a “clean”, cost-effective way to get around, but also as an object of desire or a status symbol. There is nonetheless growing interest in new car sharing and ride sharing systems.


Source :

(1)  Dominique Herrier, Deputy Director Transport, IFP Energies Nouvelles