Strategic energy consultancy Element Energy recently won the 2011 Outstanding Low Carbon Publication award for its report, Influences on the Low Carbon Car Market from 2020 – 2030, a well-researched analysis of the future of conventional cars, hybrids, electric, and hydrogen vehicles.
Driven by the EU’s aggressive CO2 targets, the car market will experience a significant shift towards low carbon emitting vehicles that use alternative fuels and powertrain technologies, as well as conventional cars that have increased efficiency. The report examined a few key areas of the low carbon car market such as car technology, cost, emissions, and incentives.
The research team based their comparisons of low carbon vehicles on an evolved version of the conventional car that will have a much improved powertrain and aerodynamics and will be composed of lightweight materials.
Weight reduction is key to future vehicle improvements. A study by Lotus found that a 38% non-drivetrain weight reduction is possible. Using that data, the research team projected that non-drivetrain weight can be reduced 14% by 2020 and 28% by 2030.
Though the size of vehicles has increased in the past two decades, it has recently leveled off and is not expected to increase given road width, parking restrictions, and a heightened focus on vehicle efficiency.
Vehicles of the future will experience the greatest improvements in aerodynamics (4.4% by 2030), rolling (6.7% by 2030), and driveline transmission (0.9% by 2030) for a total vehicle efficiency improvement of 12% by 2030. Other improvements include stop start functionality to reduce idling and fuel efficiency improvements.
The Nissan Leaf electric vehicle (EV) has a range of 160 km — the distance that 90% of annual mileage falls within. Range improvement for EVs in that class is expected to rise to 240 km by 2030. For those wanting a greater range and for whom cost isn’t an issue, hydrogen vehicles will be the best bet.
Within the next decade, car buyers won’t be looking at sticker price the same way. Since vehicles will have higher upfront costs but lower annual costs to run, the focus will shift to Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) — a metric that takes both purchase price and annual maintenance costs into account.
Low carbon car prices are expected to plummet to a level most car buyers could afford. As conventional cars rise £1700 ($2650 USD) in price 10 to 20 years from now, hybrids are expected to drop £250 ($390 USD). EV prices will nose-dive £16730 ($26,100) from £37220 ($58,060 USD) to £20490 ($31,960 USD) and hydrogen vehicles will drop a whopping £89,200 ($139,140 USD) from £111,330 ($173,660 USD) to £22,130 ($34,520 USD).
By 2030, it’s estimated that plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) will have a higher TCO than EVs since the extra battery capacity will end up being cheaper than producing a hybrid powertrain.
Though low carbon cars will largely close the capital cost gap, they will face rising insurance rates. Increased repair costs and higher purchase prices for low carbon vehicles will lead to yet higher insurance rates (already a 200% increase in real terms in the past 17 years) that threaten to offset a decent chunk of low carbon vehicles’ fuel savings.
Conventional cars are expected to get a lot cleaner by 2030 with their CO2 emissions dropping from 138 gCO2/km to 74 gCO2/km (for a medium-sized vehicle). Providing for 10% biofuel by energy, conventional cars overall will likely drop from 144 gCO2/km to 71 gCO2/km in 2030 — a large enough change to meet the EU’s new sales fleet average emissions 2020 target of 95 gCO2/km.
The research team picked the PHEV as the best choice for cost-effective emissions reductions since it can electrify a high percentage of trips relatively cost effectively as compared to RE-EVs that emit less, but cost more due to the larger battery.
Low carbon cars will continue to need financial support in order for wide adoption to occur. Incentives worth £870 ($1350 USD) per year will be required for a PHEV to break even with a conventional car in 2025, whereas a pure EV will require £1590 ($2480 USD). In contrast, a hybrid will only require £360 ($560 USD) of support and hydrogen vehicles top the list at £2020 ($3150 USD).
Given energy insecurity and rapid-fire technological progress, guessing what the car market will look like in a decade or two is no easy task. Though many assumptions needed to be made, Element Energy provides a comprehensive look into the low carbon car market of the future with their report. The cost gap is closing fast, but skyrocketing insurance costs may threaten to largely negate fuel cost savings.
Incentives will still be necessary for low carbon cars to succeed, according to the report’s 10 to 20-year time horizon. As long as governments worldwide provide proper financial incentives and impose strict CO2 emission standards, the low carbon car will soon play a strong supporting role in the future cast of characters.