New experiment slashes vehicle pollution

Posted: 1 February 2001

In a recent demonstration on ways of reducing car pollution, the Sierra Club made a series of relatively simple improvements to the popular Taurus model, which improved its fuel economy from 27.5 mpg to 42.3 mpg.

In 1974, Ford predicted that a 27.5mpg Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standard would mean that all its cars would have to become "sub-subcompacts". This turned out to be nonsense. According to the US Department of Energy, 86 per cent of fuel economy improvement between 1974 and 1991 resulted from more efficient packaging, better fuel injection and other technologies. Only 2 per cent came from reducing car size. Improving the fuel economy of the Taurus and other cars will not only save oil and curb global warming, it will also help reduce the US trade deficit and save consumers money.

In the United States there is now more land under roads than under housing, and in the Western world vehicular pollution is the cause of three-quarters of all carbon monoxide emissions, half of all nitrogen oxide emissions and about a quarter of all carbon dioxide emissions.

At present some 65 million cars are added each year to the stock of around 500 million in the world, and some estimates suggest that the number of cars on the road will double to a billion by the year 2030. This will be exceptionally bad news for the climate if the polluting habits of our vehicles remains the same as they are now.

The holy grail, both for car manufacturers and for consumers, is a zero-emission vehicle, and several major manufacturers are already developing, or trying to develop, fuel cell alternatives to petrol which will combine hydrogen and oxygen to form water and electricity. Until they do most of us will still be relying on conventional gas-guzzlers, and this is why many environmentalists argue that one of the most significant short-term ways of reducing greenhouse gas emissions involves the manufacture of cleaner cars, albeit ones that still run on fossil fuels.

"Making the average car in America can get 45 miles per gallon is the biggest single step we can take to save oil and curb global warming," says the Sierra Club.