U.S. car market lags behind Europe, Japan in 'green' fuel

The United States car market is still dominated by less fuel-efficient gasoline engines compared to Europe and Japan.

According to Jato Dynamics, the United States car market is still significantly behind Europe and Japan in terms of reducing vehicle CO2 output.

The new study of the U.S. light vehicle market in the first quarter of 2010 reveals the market's average CO2 is 268.5 grams per kilometer. To reflect like-for-like comparison with car markets in other global regions, excluding pickup trucks, full-size vans and small commercial vehicles the figure falls to 255.6 grams per kilometer. The report listed Japan at 130.8 grams per kilometer and Europe's five biggest markets at an average of 140.3 grams per kilometer. All markets have improved marginally when compared with the full-year average in 2009; Japan is down 0.4 grams per kilometer, the U.S. is down 1.0 gram per kilometer and Europe has improved most significantly with a 4.3 grams per kilometer reduction year-to-date.

"It is still clear that American consumers need to undergo a fundamental rethink of their vehicle buying preferences, but the past period of economic upheaval is likely to have meant that other domestic issues have taken consumer's priority," said David Mitchell, president of JATO Americas. "The blame can't just lie with consumers, though; the OEM product offering in the U.S. still does little to promote alternatives to the large engine capacity gasoline vehicles which still dominate the market."

Although it doesn't seem like it to most American drivers, the cost of fuel here still remains comparatively low. This may be a major factor behind the slow change.

According to the report, 33.9 percent of vehicles sold in the U.S. still fall within a 15 mpg to 20 mpg consumption bracket, compared with Europe where only 0.28 percent of vehicle sales in Europe fall with that bracket and only 0.63 percent of sales in Japan.

In Europe, average CO2 emissions have reduced most significantly thanks to the rising popularity of diesel, a fuel which has 48.9 percent of Europe's market share. Japan has a tiny diesel share of only 0.11 percent, but its highly congested roads make very small and economical gasoline cars a popular choice. Currently, the U.S. market is dominated by gasoline with a 81.9 percent market share, with only 1.7 percent being diesel, according to the report.

"An interesting point to note is that American consumers have been significantly more inclined to adopt hybrid technology than the Europeans," said Mitchell. Hybrids have 2.3 percent market share in the U.S., while in Europe it is still only 0.5 percent. Not surprisingly, Japan leads the way with 10.1 percent of market share going to hybrids, Mitchell said in a news release.

Variations in CO2-based taxation regimes that reward or penalize certain technologies could also be a factor. Japan's high-technology driven economy, for example, favors new technologies such as hybrid and electric vehicles. Additionally, European vehicle "scrappage" has gotten older, less efficient vehicles off the road and replaced them with low-polluting, fuel-efficient small cars--something that "Cash for Clunkers" aimed to accomplish.


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