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How to double world gas mileage by 2050

Global group says organized effort to implement current technology can improve global fuel efficiency by 50 percent.

A new campaign to improve automotive fuel efficiency worldwide by 50 percent by the year 2050 was announced at the Geneva Motor Show on Wednesday.

The Global Fuel Economy Initiative and its "50 by 50" campaign has the backing of leaders of four major international organizations: David Ward, director general of the FIA Foundation; Nobuo Tanaka, the executive director of the International Energy Agency; Jack Short, the secretary general of the International Transportation Forum; and Achim Steiner, the executive director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

50 by 50 initiative

Car companies, the "50 by 50" report (PDF) says, must develop car fleets that collectively on average get double the gas mileage they get today, and people must buy them, in order to effectively reduce automotive CO2 emissions and oil consumption.

While the group praised all-electric cars and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles it noted that such advanced technology is not immediately necessary, nor a guarantee of carbon dioxide reductions until countries have cleaner electricity production.

"We have to find ways to reconcile legitimate aspirations for mobility, an ambitious reduction in CO2 from cars worldwide, and global economic recovery. There are opportunities to combine support for the industry with measures to achieve governments' environmental and energy policy goals," said a joint statement signed by the leaders of the four organizations.

The Global Fuel Economy Initiative report said a combination of simple steps when collectively applied could have a large impact.

On the technology side it recommended two main things:

  • Develop more hybrids overall, offer more car models in a hybrid version, and when possible offer a plug-in hybrid version.
  • Implement and improve less glamorous but achievable incremental technology for gas and diesel engine cars like weight reduction, better aerodynamics, and improved efficiency in the internal combustion engine.

But technology alone will not get the world to the goal unless it's propelled by political action, according to the report. On the political side, the initiative recommended the following:

  • Present clear data on fuel economy statistics for cars as well as their effect on the global climate, and require automakers to be more transparent on a car model's real-life fuel efficiency.
  • Lobby shareholders with significant stakes in automotive companies on the benefits of selling cars with fuel economy improvements.
  • Convince governments to offer better incentives for companies to develop more fuel-efficient vehicles.
  • Launch campaigns in different countries throughout the world to arm individuals with information on fuel efficiency and their options for car buying.

Taking those steps will save over 6 billion barrels of oil per year by 2050, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions from cars by about 50 percent, according to the report.

"Cutting global average automotive fuel consumption (L/100 km) by 50 percent (i.e. doubling MPG) would reduce emissions of CO2 by over 1 gigatonne (Gt) a year by 2025 and over 2 gigatonnes (Gt) by 2050, and result in savings in annual oil import bills alone worth over USD 300 billion in 2025 and 600 billion in 2050 (based on an oil price of USD 100/bbl)," said the report.

The initiative acknowledges that its goal is ambitious. The report points out that the amount of cars in the world is expected to triple by 2050. It attributes this expected growth to the surge of car ownership in developing nations.