COMMENT: Stringent global emissions regulations are a disruptive but necessary step

The automotive industry will struggle to meet the demands of new global standards, but avoiding the issue will come at a cost. By Betti Hunter

The rallying worldwide calls for action against climate change has never been louder. As climate change strikes take place across the world and the UN warning that the planet has a slim 12-year window within which to act, the pressure is on for industries of all stripes to reduce their CO2 footprint, and fast.

This, of course, renews attention on the automotive industry. According to the World Health Organization, the transportation sector is the fastest growing contributor to greenhouse gas emissions across the board. This is mostly as a result of land and air transport, but the vehicle manufacturing process has been criticised as being as damaging as the driving itself.

In the US, cars and trucks account for almost one-fifth of all emissions. In Europe, that figure rises to a quarter. 2015 research by the International Council on Clean Transportation found that diesel vehicle exhaust emissions were responsible for up to 385,000 deaths in India alone that year. They were also the second-highest contributor to the 1.8 million air pollution-related deaths in China.

The world is not waiting for automotive to catch up in its own sweet time. Rather, a host of measures have been put in place to spur industry players into rapid action.

The industry is listening and responding. Global automakers are diversifying their portfolios by developing electric and hybrid models while also seeking to minimise waste and emissions in the manufacturing process. New mobility innovations, such as car-sharing, micro-mobility services and the potential of vehicle automation have been put forward as partial solutions, and heavy-duty alternative powertrain trucks are under development. But overhauling a sector so deeply wedded to fossil fuels cannot be achieved overnight.

The world is not waiting for automotive to catch up in its own sweet time. Rather, a host of measures have been put in place to spur industry players into rapid action. As low and zero emissions zones in urban areas increase, many cities are calling for bans on diesel-powered vehicles—and maybe even for internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles in general.

Strict regulations are being imposed by nations and blocs looking to drastically slash emissions. In Europe, new targets demand a 15% cut in medium and heavy-duty vehicle CO2 emissions from 2019 levels by 2025, rising to 30% by 2030. Despite historically lagging behind other markets, India is following suit with the nationwide roll-out of Bharat Stage VI (BS-VI), which mirrors the Euro 6 standards introduced across the European Union in 2015. China will be introducing its own China 6 in 2020 and 6b in 2023, seen as one of the toughest global light-duty emissions standards. In the US, California is still leading the way with stringent regulations. 13 other states follow their lead, but a single national standard that pleases both California and the US government is yet to be created. In most cases, manufacturers who fail to comply will be heavily penalised.

By and large, the industry welcomes these regulations. However, the tight timeframes have prompted cries of frustration. European trucking players in particular believe the 2025 deadline is unachievable without the widespread development of alternative powertrains and the rapid deployment of a viable fuelling or charging infrastructure. Indian automakers are under intense pressure to produce BS-VI compliant models within just three years, and only 554 models on the Chinese market currently meet the China 6 standard.

By and large the industry welcomes these regulations. However, the tight timeframes have prompted cries of frustration.

Manufacturers across the board have also warned that vehicles are likely to become more expensive and thus subdue consumer demand, especially considering the expensive advanced emissions control systems that will be mandatory in new diesel cars. Though acceptance and adoption of e-mobility and alternative powertrain technology is rising, it will be some time before drivers can be convinced to trade in their ICE vehicles for costly electric models in high numbers.

Regulators in the world’s major automotive markets are exploring the best ways to reduce industrial and vehicular emissions, at times in harmony with industry, but frequently to the dismay of industrial leaders who claim the cost of meeting tighter targets cannot be done viably. In a special report entitled, “Are vehicle emissions regulations achievable?Automotive World presents insight and perspectives from car and truck makers, suppliers, analysts and lobby groups on the challenges and opportunities posed by ever more stringent emissions regulations. Perhaps justifiably, many industry players believe this is an unwinnable battle, in the short term at least. The price manufacturers, suppliers and operators will pay could be painfully high. However, the long-term cost of ignoring the need for such measures is likely to be far higher.

To read more about changing emissions norms across the world, and the industry’s response, download Automotive World’s special report ‘Are vehicle emissions regulations achievable?

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