If the US automobile industry ramps up its efforts to produce eco-friendly vehicles for the mass market, it could cut the nation’s gas consumption by 30 to 50 percent by 2035. That’s according to a new study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. This could have a profound effect on America’s dependency on foreign oil—saving as much as 65 billion gallons of petroleum annually.
The five-year study, “On the Road in 2035: Reducing Transportation’s Petroleum and GHG Emissions,” defines several steps necessary to significantly decrease fuel usage. The most sweeping change is a broad industry-wide transition from conventional vehicles to hybrid and plug-in electric cars, and eventually to hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. In addition, the findings call for more efficient combustion engines and transmissions, greater use of clean diesel technology, lighter vehicle construction, less vehicle mass, and increased aerodynamics. The study estimates putting these technologies and enhancements into place by 2035 could increase to the cost of vehicles between $1,500 and $4,500.
“Fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions of our light-duty vehicle fleet can be reduced significantly,” according to the study. “How rapidly that reduction occurs depends on the determination of the major stakeholder groups—vehicle and fuel suppliers, vehicle and fuel purchasers and users, and governments—to vigorously undertake the actions required.”
But the study also asserts that the mentality of car consumers may be the largest factor—and one that is difficult to measure. Whether buyers ultimately choose more efficient vehicles over less efficient ones will determine the accuracy of the study’s predictions. “We’ve got to get out of the habit of thinking that we only need to focus on improving the technology, that we can invent our way out of this situation,” said lead researcher John B. Heywood.