May 20, 2011

Fuel Economy or Fools Economy: An International Overview


Dr. Lee Schipper, STC Distinguished Speaker, Senior Research Engineer, Precourt Energy Efficiency Center, Stanford University


From a unique set of authoritative national data we present trends in car use and fuel economy across Japan, Australia, North American and European countries. We also examine new vehicle characteristics and test fuel economy /CO2 emissions across these countries. We show that test fuel economy in Europe started to improve after a voluntary agreement on new vehicle emissions began there, even if the actual target was not made, while in the US new vehicle fuel economy for cars only improved after fuel prices started to rise. We note that in addition to modest improvements in on-road fuel economy, car user per capita had stagnated even before the economic decline in most of the observed countries. Thus we note real examples of fuel economy and emissions savings.

We then note some good examples of “fools’ economy” steps that were expected to lead to saved fuel and lower emissions, such as the shift to diesels in Europe or cash –for-clunkers in the US. Noting the accumulating literature on “green car incentives” and other schemes, we conclude that fuel economy standards and higher fuel prices together lie behind the observed stagnation in car use and fuel consumption/emissions. Finally we note that the current popularity of subsidies and incentives “elsewhere emission vehicles” (EEV), i.e., biofuel or electric drive vehicles raises complex issues about the effectiveness of such instruments when the main stream new car in the US still increased in weight and power in model year 2010. We conclude as many others that without strong price signals coupled to stronger fuel economy standards, the US and other countries are unlikely to meet strong oil and CO2 reduction goals.

Biographical Sketch

Lee Schipper joined the Precourt Institute of Energy Efficiency at  Stanford in September, 2008 to develop his research and policy studies of efficient energy use in transport systems  into a unique course, “Sustainable Mobility”.  Dr. Schipper earned his B.A. in music and Ph.D. at Berkeley in  astrophysics, but has devoted his career to earthly problems of transport, energy and environment. He is also currently  Senior Project Scientist at Global Metropolitan Studies, UC Berkeley.  He was a co-recipient of the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. From 2002 to 2007, Dr. Schipper was Director of Research for EMBARQ, the World Resources Institute (WRI) Center for  Sustainable Transport, which he helped found in April, 2002.  He came to EMBARQ from the International Energy Agency  (IEA) in Paris, where he had been visiting Scientist from 1995 to 2001.  Previous to that he was Staff Senior Scientist  at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory for two decades.  He worked in Group Planning at Shell International  Petroleum Company in the 1980s and again in 2001, where he worked on two sets of Shell Scenarios. He has been a guest  researcher at the World Bank, VVS Tekniska Foerening (Stockholm), the OECD Development Center, and the Stockholm  Environment Institute. Dr. Schipper has authored over 100 technical papers and a number of books on energy economics and transportation  around the world.  He takes part in numerous prestigious international panels and studies on energy and transportation,  and is on the editorial boards of six major journals in the fields. Current interests focus on global trends in motor  vehicle use and their carbon-dioxide emissions, urban transport in developing countries, and special focuses on India,  China, Viet Nam, and Mexico. vDr. Schipper was a member of the Swedish Board for Transportation and Communications Research for four years, and is  currently a member of the US Transportation Research Board’s on Sustainable Transport, Energy, and Developing Countries  Committees. He is on the editorial boards of a half-dozen international transportation, energy, and environmental  journals. As a consultant, Dr. Schipper works with Global Business Network/Monitor and Cambridge Energy Research Associates as a  Senior Associate. He also served as a consultant to the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and other international  groups. He lectures widely around the world. At PEEC Dr. Schipper has developed a wide circle of student advisees and takes part in campus-wide and outreach  activities. He co-organized a standing-room-only symposium on electric mobility in April 2010 that can be viewed at and A brief video of  the actual showcase exhibit held after the symposium is at Dr. Schipper brings a unique twist to the transport and energy worlds, having obtained his BA in Music from Berkeley  in 1968.  He still leads a jazz quintet from time to time, and recorded “The Phunky Physicist”, with Janne Schaffer,  in Sweden in 1973. He led a group at the World Conference on Transportation Research in Berkeley in June 2007, as guest  soloist in the 2008 Ottawa Jazz Festival in a tribute to vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, and at “Better Air Quality  2008” in Bangkok (