MIT Study: Fuel Consumption Cut in Half by 2035

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.

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  • Forrest

    I don’t think this will happen. Most Americans are stupid and still look at what they want as opposed to what they need. Even when gas was $4 a gallon, my brother wouldn’t even consider getting rid of his suburban, even if it took 150 dollars a week.

    This type of thinking has to change before any mainstream transition will happen.

    It would be nice if everyone saw the bigger picture and switched before gas becomes so expensive that no one can afford to drive.

  • Bryce

    With such low consumption, prices would be lower, keeping the mobile American alive, which I am fine with, it is basically a part of our history. With electrics and hybrids and even the new advanced ICEs coming out, hopefully we can be driving our cars cheaply and in a friendly manner to the environment. : )

  • TD

    If ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’ were candy and nuts …

  • Boom Boom

    Bryce, we cannot cut global consumption enough to lower prices. Prices will be going up, up, up. The days of the pitching in a couple bucks for gas for a road trip are over.

    I think that given oil production projections, that our consumption will be cut in half by 2035 whether we improve our cars or not. $4 gas is not because everybody all of the sudden said “Hey, let’s conserve.” or technology arrived so that we can reduce consumption by 50%. It is because the oil left underground is more expensive to pull out. In the future, it will only get worse.

    The question that we have before us, as a nation, is: Will we plan for a decline in oil production or will we react to it as it happens. It will not be a pretty transition if we refuse to plan for it and are forced to adapt to it after it occurs.

  • Need2Change

    It will happen — for the reason that you fear. In twenty-five years, the price of gasoline will be in excess of $20 per gallon (in 2008 dollars). The SUV, as we now know it, will be extinct. In fact, I bet gasoline will exceed $10/gallon within ten years.

    In 25 years, most vehicles will be all electric or fuel cell. The 50% reduction is conservative — even with a larger U.S. population.

    Demand for oil will still outstrip demand since the world passed peak oil 20-25 years earlier and still needs oil for so many other needs: e.g. plastics, jet fuel, etc.

  • steved28

    These studies aren’t worth the paper they are written on. 25 years ago people had us flying around in our personal hover crafts and jet packs today.

    The market, and technology, will dictate what will happen. The automobile is long overdue for a massive overhaul. Look back at the last 40 years or so, compare just about any other technology against the auto, and the auto is pathetic.

    It comes down to 3 things.

    1. Money
    2. Money
    3. Money

    There isn’t even a close 4th.

  • Charles

    I do not think it is a question of if we have a 30-50% reduction in fuel consumption, it is only a question of when. If gas was at $10.00/gallon the economy would tank, SUVs and non-work trucks would be driven only by the rich (McCain’s definition). Consumption would drop like a rock.

    By 2035 fuel could be at $10.00 in 2008 dollars. If we get there in an orderly fashion, the economy can handle the shift and the automobile companies and US consumers will have time to make the transition to practical transportation.

    Now if we only had the will to raise gas taxes to that of the rest of the western world in a slow progressive manner, we could end our dependence on oil from unfriendly countries.

  • Samie

    Relax everyone if we slowly increase standards to boast mpgs over the next twenty years. If by 2035 we see fleet averages at say 45-55 mpgs this will happen. Why b/c folks like GM can sell monster Suburban’s while needing vehicles to exceed the 45-55 range. Without much effort we would see more EV’s, PluginHybrids, and Hydrogen cars to make the difference up. Again relax, SUV’s and guys with monster trucks will always be part of our society. For the price of gas.. while that’s a huge question, if consumption does go down we may see low prices, then again we may not that’s debatable. You could argue about this but if its low we may see a new trend in a few years to go back to producing and purchasing gas guzzlers. We should always plan for this scenario even if it never happens. Many often fail to look at what History can teach us.

  • Bryce

    With higher prices, new previously “unreasonable” supplies of fuel oil will become viable coupled with the already happening erosion of subsidies by developing countries I would say has likely stopped, or atleast slowed the advance of gas prices. I am no longer so convinced that prices will innevetably march on forever (unreasonably beyond the normal pace of inflation) Look at the market and the forces that affect it and you may be able to predict it a little more accurately.

  • JH

    Bryce you are sadly optimistic. When have prices not increased? Show me an item now that is vital, needed and growing in demand where price has decreased?

    You also mention look @ the market – have you? Do you realize that the largest population centers are not located in the US? That they are requiring more and more fuel? That there are other countries willing to use their military to invade to add to or to protect their oil resources?

    No – oil and its by products need to be moved away from. We need a sustainable society. Where we are not raping the earth but harvesting it in a responsible manner.

    Lastly – why would oil rich developing countries stop their subsidies? Venezula has gas at around a quarter a gallon or so ….. why? Chavez is a douchebag and everyone knows it but he keeps the people in cheap gas and exports it to support his regime at higher prices. No subsidies aren’t going away any time soon.

  • Patrick

    Some common sense tells me that if Ford and GM build the same cars in the US as they do today in Europe fuels consumption would already be down with 30%. If Americans would think before driving they could save the additional 20%.

    No MIT study required to implement this today.

  • normothebig

    Patrick: you’re right but don’t forget we’ve always paid much higher prices for our wheels over here. Some (just some) of that is down to the cost of production. When I rent a US built car in the states it feels crude and tinny to me BUT it costs about half the price to buy. The savings in gas in a GM Astra would never compensate for the extra expense of the car. There about $25K equivalent here.
    So you can have the Euro cars but I guess the reason GM and Ford haven’t simply shipped them across already (or build em in Detroit) is they’d make no profit at US selling prices.
    This whole thing is far more complex than it looks.

  • Bryce

    I of course hope for a gas free future, but it isn’t going to happen over night. Gas will be with us for a long while, though hopefully in progressively decreasing amounts.

  • Going2Green

    As the Democratic Convention wraps up and the hoopla of the Republican Convention heats up Americans are still left with a sense of a lot of hot air of any concrete plans to end the energy crisis in America. Northerners dread the upcoming onset of fall and colder weather wondering how they will be able to afford how to keep their homes and families warm. Southerners have been sweating the high cost of energy raising the thermostat to save on their electric bills. Families everywhere are wondering where else they can cut back to cover the cost of fueling up the family vehicle to get back and forth to work and take care of the necessities of life. There is no money left for relaxation and family fun. The stress level continues to rise. The average electric bill has risen 16% to cover the power companies additional production costs. A gallon of milk is almost as precious as a gallon of gas. The cost of every consumer product has risen sharply. American’s are stretched to the limit. Jobs are being lost, foreclosures are increasing at an alarming rate. Seems even the family pets are suffering the high cost of fuel as almost daily a new story is on TV about shelters being forced to euthanize record number of surrendered pets from those forced out of their homes or no longer able to care for them. The energy crisis in our country is far reaching and needs immediate attention. I am hoping whoever gets elected will get their act together and make this their #1 priority.

    An interesting site to share…

  • Ormond Otvos

    Note how the press release for MIT carefully hides important comparisons by switching their metrics.

    Why don’t they point out what percentage of total oil use nationwide and worldwide will be lowered, and compare it with a graph to world total projected oil use. Too depressing? Trying to make happy talk?

    While they’re at it, MIT could, with their expertise in foreign affairs, do a graph of oil use projections versus war projections, but that might reveal the military-industrial complex that pays for their weapons research.

  • flower

    you are so right