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Global automotive engineering association FISITA welcomes ‘50 by 50’ initiative, but warns that adapting existing technologies is not easy

9 March 2009

FISITA, the International Federation of Automotive Engineering Societies, has welcomed the recently launched '50 By 50' Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI), but warns that it will only be achieved through a shared commitment and sustained investment on the part of governments, drivers and energy producers, as well as the automotive industry.

The GFEI, launched during the Geneva Motor Show by a partnership of international agencies, calls for a 50% improvement in fuel economy worldwide by 2050, which they argue can be achieved largely through incremental change to conventional drive systems, along with weight reduction and better aerodynamics.

While it welcomes the call for a coordinated effort to reduce global fuel consumption, FISITA, the world body uniting the national automotive societies in 38 countries, believes it will be extremely challenging in the current economic and regulatory climate for engineers to achieve such a dramatic cut through the optimisation of established vehicle and powertrain technologies alone.

FISITA, organiser of the biennial World Automotive Congress, believes that while there are still fuel efficiency gains to be made from optimising conventional IC engines & drivetrain, along with mass-reduction and aerodynamic improvements, it is important to understand that even small gains are very difficult and expensive to achieve and there are some important engineering compromises which regulators must address.

For example, in reducing vehicle weight there is a balance to be struck between fuel economy and safety. During the last decade, average vehicle weight has actually increased by 16%, but most of this extra weight results from mandatory safety systems such as passenger airbags and enhanced crash structures. Aerodynamic efficiency gains too are hampered by very necessary regulations governing the shape of vehicles for pedestrian protection. Automotive engineers must constantly balance the demands for safer vehicles with those for lower emissions.

Commenting on the GFEI initiative, FISITA President, Christoph Huss, said:

"Automotive engineers have been working around the clock for years to reduce CO2 emissions with considerable success. If we take Europe as an example, we will fulfil the industry's voluntary commitment to reduce average fuel consumption by more than 20% from 1995 to 2008. Of course there is still much more to be done and engineers will not be satisfied until we reach the ultimate goal of emission-free driving.

I am confident that we can achieve the ambitious target of a further 50% reduction in automotive CO2 by 2050, but we must be utterly realistic about the scale of the engineering challenge and we must have a genuinely integrated approach to meeting it."

FISITA believes that the focus of the automotive industry and of engineers in particular, should be on taking serious action to achieve the greatest possible reductions in CO2 from road transportation. This means pursuing all available measures to accelerate the deployment of currently viable fuel-efficient technologies, whilst also investing heavily towards a future of emissions-free driving which will require the development of more radical approaches in alternative fuels, electrification and mobility.

This July, FISITA will host a World Automotive Summit in Germany, which will bring together automotive leaders along with experts from governments, academia and associations to identify shared priorities and work towards greater cooperation in the fight against automotive CO2

According to Christoph Huss, "if engineers are to be able to deliver on the goal of zero emissions motoring, we must have a shared commitment and sustained investment by governments, drivers and energy producers, as well as the automotive industry itself."

In particular, FISITA is calling for the following action:

- Urgent, targeted economic support for the automotive industry to protect pre-competitive R&D into green technologies, and fiscal incentives to encourage drivers of older, more polluting vehicles to replace them with the latest, low-emission alternatives

- A clear regulatory framework that focuses on achieving the greatest real-world reductions in CO2 emissions generated by a vehicle's use throughout its lifespan, rather than one based solely on potential CO2 created in laboratory conditions

- International harmonisation of standards for key technologies including alternative fuels and electric drive technologies

- Major investment in power generation from renewable energy sources, including funding of long-range scientific research into solar energy. Electric vehicles can play a major part in the reduction of automotive CO2, but only if the electricity is generated from low-carbon sources

- Commitment from public authorities to coordinate infrastructure planning and to work with the automotive and ITS industries to accelerate the deployment of C2C and C2I communications networks which will help mitigate traffic congestion, aid eco-driving initiatives and significantly enhance safety

- More support from governments for engineering education, including the promotion of maths and science in schools as well as improved facilities for teaching and research at the HE level, to ensure the supply of graduate engineers capable of working with high-potential technologies such as advanced electronics, new materials, battery technology etc.