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Added by: Chris Carroll (BEUC - The European Consumer Organisation)

Ever since September 2015 and the infamous discovery of a ‘defeat device’ used by Volkswagen, the automotive sector has faced one of the biggest scandals in its history. Consumer trust in the sector as a whole has been battered and the question that keeps being asked is whether or not the humble car can go from gas-guzzling-eco-villain of today, to a clean and affordable mobility mode of the future? In this blog, BEUC’s Project Coordinator on Sustainable Mobility, Chris Carroll, writes about the findings of a new study on clean cars and what they mean for consumers.  

In our new study that was published in November and which explored the consumer impacts of rolling out cleaner vehicles between 2020 and 2030, it was highlighted that consumers stand to win big from the roll out of fuel and energy efficient technologies for cars. In essence, the study shows that such technologies - including improvements to engine design, aerodynamics, and low weighting - can simultaneously help lower running costs on one hand and cut down pollution on another.

The study focused on the period between 2020 and 2030 and on what is known as the total cost of ownership – In essence a measurement of all the costs that a consumer can expect to be faced with when buying and using a car.


Big cost savings for all consumers

The results showed that for whatever the vehicle someone chooses to drive, they will be able to reduce their costs in the coming years if car makers bring advanced and known technologies to the market. For an owner of a new petrol or diesel car in 2025 for instance, they could stand to save on average €6,500 over the vehicle’s entire lifetime compared to a car bought in 2015. 

The report is also good news for a cost conscientious consumer interested in buying an electric car. The study shows that for an average electric vehicle, it could match if not become cheaper to run over a four year period than a petrol car by 2024. Of course, there are potential cost saving benefits of ‘EVs’ today, but in most cases they need financial incentives that several countries across Europe are now offering. In our study we didn’t consider such incentives as it is unlikely that they will remain affordable for governments in the longer term, nor necessary with the expected rapid fall in the cost of electric cars. 


Change in the average 4-year TCO of all vehicle types between 2015 and 2030

Another interesting point made in the report concerns the knock on effects of deploying cleaner cars. In essence, the study finds that energy efficient technologies for cars can provide economic bonuses for all consumers; regardless of whether they have a set of wheels or not. This potential can in essence be realized by reducing demand for oil and in turn its price. And as we know, the price of oil is not just important for motorists, but can be a key factor in influencing the price of almost all the products that we use.

Will advanced fuel efficient technologies see the light of day?

So, the real question here is whether or not these available technologies will be brought to the market. There is undoubtedly an important role here for car makers but there is an even more important role for our decision makers. One of the best ways of ensuring that industry brings desirable technologies to the market is by setting targets. Here, it is expected that the EU will start work in 2017 on devising targets to improve the fuel efficiency and lower the carbon emissions of cars between 2020 and 2030. These targets must be ambitious and push car makers to move ahead in a low carbon, low pollution direction. It’s important to recognize here that consumers, and motorists particularly, stand to suffer the most from road pollution due to the concentrating effect of pollutants inside the cabin of the car. 

Vehicle testing and market surveillance need to improve 

However, it is also essential that the European system for testing cars before they go on the road and when they are in use is strengthened. Today, car makers have been able to systematically exploit weaknesses in the current regime and have had no threat of punishment for doing so. This has meant in reality that reducing emissions of air pollutants and improving fuel consumption performance have only really been achieved in the laboratory and not in the real world. To rebalance the books, we need cars to be tested under strict conditions, without conflicts of interest and tested both inside a laboratory and on the road. Strong threats of penalties for malpractice must be crystal clear and undoubtedly proper European oversight is essential to make sure that national governments are keeping to the same lane. 

See BEUC's 'Car testing Maze' to find out about how the system works today and what is needed in the future.

So, can the cars of the future be both clean and cheap to run? For European consumers, it will ultimately be up to decision makers at the national and European level to decide on the approach and for car makers to put it into practice. At BEUC, we’ll certainly be watching them closely in 2017 and urging them to take the low carbon, low cost lane of the future.




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