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Shapes of cars to come

U.S. President Barack Obama has declared that cars made in the UnitedStates would have to meet a target of an average 35.5 mpg by 2016, withreductions starting in 2012.

U.S. President Barack Obama has declared that cars made in the United States would have to meet a target of an average 35.5 mpg by 2016, with reductions starting in 2012. The move will reduce America's carbon dioxide emissions by 30 per cent as well as reduce dependence on foreign oil.

It’s a radical proposition — especially given that no car manufacturer’s fleet comes anywhere near that average. Carmakers will have to work hard and spend money they don’t have, to phase out the gas-guzzlers in their portfolios and introduce energy-sippers.

No wonder American automakers and Bush’s oil-barons had been resisting cuts for years. It’s going to be especially hard for those whose most successful cars are SUV and high-performance models.

The other issue is that it takes time for the technology to get on the road. It takes the average car produced by a major carmaker at least four years to go from initial design to dealership forecourt, via marketing, engineering, safety testing, and factory floor.

Developing new technology is phenomenally expensive, then creating the plants that can produce cars with the new technology is more expense still. This is why manufacturers often share platforms like the Ford Ka and the Fiat 500, for example.

Most carmakers have been going eco for the last few years, but progress is slow. So what’s in the pipeline? The current economic climate as well as our eco expectations will shape the next few years — most people will be looking to buy smaller, cheaper-to-fuel cars. Expect more electric cars in three year’s time; by 2016 they might be as affordable as petrol models. They might have smaller, more ecological batteries, and the way they’re made and the energy that fuels them might be more sustainable too.

Don’t expect anything too radical to come from the major players. After all, the financial crisis caused Fiat CEO Sergio Marchionne to gloomily predict that in two years time only six global carmakers will exist. The innovation might well come from faster-moving companies on the outside.

 
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