How low will CO2 emissions possibly become in new vehicle models?

The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Automotive Trends report recorded carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions at an all-time low in 2020.  For all new vehicles, the emission rate fell by 7 g/mi to 349 g/mi. Fuel economy reached an all-time high, too, increasing by 0.5 mpg to 25.4 mpg. The report also mentioned that over almost 20 years (since 2004), CO2 emissions have decreased by 24%. This is incredible news from a sustainability standpoint. However, the market's shift in demand for more SUV, utility and sports vehicles (which have the highest CO2 emissions and lowest fuel economy) has offset this number over recent years.

Manufacturers continue to seek more advanced technologies to meet performance and efficiency goals. Every top vehicle brand has implemented some form of technology, at least to some degree, to lower CO2 emissions, says the EPA. Some have gone beyond expectations when it comes to fitting their vehicles with cutting-edge technology. These technologies include turbocharged engines, cylinder deactivation and start/stop systems that will temporarily turn off a vehicle's engine when it's idle.

Is it possible for vehicles to reach zero emissions?

The answer to this question depends on what we mean by 'zero emissions.' If we're talking about a vehicle that has no exhaust emissions, then the answer is yes. If we're talking about a vehicle that has zero greenhouse gas emissions, then the answer is no. Any vehicle that runs, even in part, on fossil fuels, will create some form of CO2 emission.  Electric vehicles (EVs) are the way forward to reaching zero CO2 emissions (but don't get this confused with zero environmental impact).

What does the future of CO2 emissions from vehicles look like?

The future of CO2 emissions in vehicles is a complicated subject. The outcome will depend on the kinds of fuel we want to use and the way we want to mine and produce them. We need to think about many factors including the cost, availability, and energy efficiency of the fuels we've depended on for well over a century. The future is unclear and what trends will emerge in the coming years have yet to be determined.

According to a 2020 Deloitte report, both plug-in hybrids (PHEVs) and battery-electric vehicles (BEVs) have entered a whole new arena of development. While governments continue to push the concept and funding for new technologies and expansion of EV offerings, billions of dollars are being invested in new models and designs. Despite the "lasting impact" of the COVID-19 pandemic, Deloitte considers the second half of the decade to be monumental in terms of EV (including PHEV and BEV) expansion. With that in mind, we can likely safely predict that with the growth of zero-emission electric vehicles, we'll see a decrease in the overall CO2 emissions created by all automobiles.

But will fuel-powered vehicles continue to decrease their CO2 emissions even further?

Even in recent years, we've seen a significant increase in the number of electric cars on the road. Many car companies are now looking for ways to further decrease their CO2 emissions.

While original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) continue to make giant strides in improving technology for even greater fuel efficiency and more, much of the future's real impact on emissions will rely on electric vehicles becoming more mainstream. As automotive brands offer more hybrid capabilities, it will become much easier – and more affordable – for car owners to make the transition.

As trends over the last decade have proven, it looks like the only road forward is up.

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