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Forecasting Vehicle and Fuel Technologies to 2020


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Suggested Citation:
Sperling, Daniel (1997) Forecasting Vehicle and Fuel Technologies to 2020. Institute of Transportation Studies, University of California, Davis, Presentation Series UCD-ITS-RP-97-25

The Future Highway Transportation System and Society: Suggested Research on Impacts and Interactions

As transit use and ridesharing continue their steady decline, motor vehicles are becoming more dominant than ever. They are also becoming larger, increasingly powerful, and more laden with accessories and conveniences.

One adverse consequence of motor vehicle proliferation—air pollution—is being mitigated by a continuing stream of technological enhancements, while concern for other consequences, especially petroleum consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, languishes. What will be the response to continuing calls for still cleaner air, and episodic (and perhaps intensified) concern over growing petroleum imports and global climate change? Extraordinary consumer wealth in the United States, combined with a veritable revolution in automotive technology, creates the potential for a large array of responses. As the magnitude and potential effectiveness of these technologies become appreciated more widely, the well-documented hesitancy of U.S. political leaders to reduce the harmful consequences of vehicles by restricting their use is likely to be still further weakened.

In this paper, the author focuses on the role of air quality and energy in the design and commercialization of vehicles and fuels. Other adverse consequences—such as noise, land consumption, and aesthetics—are unlikely to play as central a role in the evolution of vehicles. Today, virtually all motor vehicles are powered by internal combustion engines (ICEs) and petroleum fuels: larger vehicles generally burn diesel fuel in compression ignition engines, whereas lighter vehicles tend to burn gasoline in spark ignition engines. But to what extent and in what way will energy and environment concerns alter these patterns? Because more stringent emission standards are in place and good progress is being made in achieving them, one outcome is highly certain: emissions of conventional pollutants will continue to decline. What is less certain is whether regulatory and legislative initiatives will force a reduction in fuel use or a shift away from petroleum fuels and ICEs. This paper focuses on how, when, and where these changes may occur, and the implications of those changes for the transportation sector.