Saturday, June 18, 2016

How can Car Emissions change our world?

The story of VolksWagon (VW), and other companies caught lying about emissions and gas consumption efficiency brings to mind the fact that the world is changing significantly. The biggest changes are coming in the near future.

Apparently VW, Audi and Porsche are all the same company. The problems started for them when emissions engineers discovered they had set up their diesel engines to detect when they were being tested, and run lean at that time. Things weren't so lean later when they weren't being tested as an enterprising emissions engineer discovered. Today, there is a massive lawsuit moving through the courts to compensate the 420,000 owners of these cars in the US. Even more car companies were caught overstating the truth, or outright lying about efficiency or pollution. Most car manufacturing companies who sell cars in the US have been implicated.

The problems continue, though. Ford had a write-up  on how they moved heaven and earth to attempt to get their preeminent F-150 to conform to current emissions standards. They spent a $1B on shifting their line to make F-150 trucks in aluminum. This is good because aluminum makes for a lighter, although more expensive truck. However, Ford's F-150 as a fleet does not meet current emissions standards.

Making a bad situation even worse from car manufacturers' view, President Obama increased automotive average fleet standards to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025, although he did so with the best intentions for the sake of a clean environment. This new standard could cost car manufacturers quite a bit. By current standards, to get an average economy of 54.5 miles to gallon of gas would require a motor scooter, or a moped. Perhaps a 500cc motorcycle engine would be the maximum size under this type of legislative environment. This brings to mind the question of if car manufacturers or consumers will be willing to pay the difference needed to make vehicles with this type of efficiency. In the Ford F-150 Has Big Problem After Overhaul article, Bloomberg quotes the following:

“The question is, do consumers pay for this technology or just get it for free?’’ said Warren Gibbon, a portfolio manager for Standard Life Investments in Boston, who helps manage $373 billion and sold his holdings in big Detroit car companies in 2012. “If it’s the latter, it will be tough for automakers to make a good return on their investment.’’

Also at stake is the fact that pick up trucks are designed to work and haul materials. To perform this work, they have to have decent sized engines.  An under-powered truck wouldn't make it far in the business world. Perhaps with time, hybrids and electrics can be made to fulfill this purpose, but the cost will be high.

Car manufacturers are under pressure today to meet ever-increasing emissions standards. If the standards were possible, then companies wouldn't lie about their emissions or gas efficiency. VW is in a huge mess due to lying about their TDI Diesel engines, but if the engineering were possible, I would think they would have engineered to meet the standards. Other companies are in trouble for fudging various figures for their cars.

If all goes well, we will have efficient cars and trucks that will make the high standards set by the government. They might not be affordable, though. Expect to see a shake out in the car manufacturers. However, if car technology is a limiting factor, then the cars in 20 years won't be burning gasoline.

My mind ran to Cuba where all the cars date from the 50s or earlier. If we are in a situation where old cars' emissions are grandfathered, then I can easily see fleets of pre-2010 cars that will still be on the road in 20 years. Perhaps we will enter the age of heirloom cars where families pass them down because new ones cost a lot. One thing is for sure, if technology can't find a better answer than we see today, then the age of the gasoline car will be over. Horses might be fashionable again, and the same for ride sharing.

Changes on this potential scale mean our world will change substantially. The age and era of quick personal travel will be over. This change, if technology can't keep up with standards, will happen in the near future.

Epilogue: One of my friends just got back from Peru. No emissions rules there, and come to think of it, there weren't any rules in China when I went there in 2009. Perhaps other countries won't change as much as us.