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The global passenger car fleet now exceeds 539 million vehicles worldwide, and is growing by as many as nine million vehicles annually. As the world’s reigning car culture, the US is home to a quarter of the world’s cars. Most US households own two or more vehicles, and there are now more private cars than people licensed to drive them. Cars and light trucks account for 40 percent of US oil use and contribute about as much to climate change as the entire Japanese economy—the world’s fourth-largest carbon emitter.
Cars are a major source of carbon dioxide emissions. When a gallon of gasoline is burned, the carbon in it combines with oxygen from the air to produce nearly 20 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2). US cars and light trucks together consume 8.2 million barrels of oil each day. This translates to over 300 million metric tons of carbon that comes from our cars and trucks every year.
Fuel Economy Must Improve
In addition to the sheer volume of cars on the road, it doesn’t help that in the US, cars are getting larger and fuel economy actually decreased in the overall fleet over the past 30 years. Carbon emissions and gas mileage are closely linked. Cars that burn less gas emit less CO2. If average fuel economy improved by 5 mpg, American consumers would save 1.5 million barrels of oil per day. This would result in an annual reduction of approximately 55 million metric tons of carbon emissions per year. Unfortunately, automobile manufacturers, both domestic and foreign, have fought increasing fuel efficiency standards nationally and at the state level.
While biofuels, including biodiesel, with their improved mileage and reduced emissions, are increasingly popular and may be part of the long-term solution, in the short term, automakers need to create more fuel efficient and hybrid cars. More and more consumers are seeking out these cars. Hybrid car sales in the US have increased from 9,350 in 2000 to 205,749 in 2005, representing 1.2 percent of the total vehicles sold in 2005. By 2011, it is projected that about 35 hybrid models will be on the market, with that number exceeding 50 in 2012.
US Auto Companies Can Do Better
American car companies have been slow to develop and bring new hybrid cars to market. Honda and Toyota are the only two car companies currently selling hybrid compact and sedan cars, as well as growing lines of subcompact cars. Ford has introduced hybrid versions of its Escape and Mariner SUVs, but while hybrid technology improves their fuel economy, they still only get 33 miles to the gallon, as compared to the Toyota Prius, which gets 55 MPG. In general, Americans are turning away from SUVs, including hybrid SUVs. Ford has used the lack of interest in its hybrid SUVs as a reason to pull back from their promise to build 250,000 hybrids per year by 2010. GM is following Ford’s misguided lead by releasing hybrid versions of its mammoth Tahoe and Yukon SUVs in 2007. In the meantime, both companies continue to fight increases in overall fuel efficiency (which would make an enormous difference in reducing greenhouse gas emissions quickly).
LEARN MORE AND TAKE ACTION ...
Read our editorial about out-of-date US fuel economy standards, and why consumer demand will be key to improving US automobiles.
Take action to tell Ford and GM to produce more fuel efficient and better hybrid cars.
Learn about plug-in hybrids, the next big thing in responsible automobiles -- and learn how to make your conventional hybrid more efficient today.