The Global Fuel Economy Initiative


What is the Global Fuel Economy Initiative?


The Global Fuel Economy Initiative (GFEI) is a partnership of six organizations – IEA, ITF, UNEP, ICCT, UCDavis, and FIA Foundation – which seeks to promote the potential of a substantial but attainable improvement in vehicle fuel economy as a contribution to the debates on how we might climate change, energy security and more sustainable mobility on a global basis.

The GFEI works with countries to develop an appropriate national approach and supporting target for improved car fleet fuel economy, while working toward a global stabilization of emissions from the road transport sector by 2050.


What is the objective of your initiative?


The GFEI seeks to draw attention to the possibilities which existing technologies could bring in improved fuel economy. The campaign shows that we could see a halving in per vehicle CO2 emissions by 2050, thus enabling a massively larger global car fleet to be emitting no extra compared to the base year of 2005, if we pursued those technologies. It also suggests that whilst the public policy response to this issue may well differ from country to country, and even region to region, everyone must act now to address the issue of fuel economy.

GFEI seeks to add value in 2 main ways. First we plan to improve understanding of the issue of fuel economy by adding to the evidence base, particularly in terms of data on current fuel economy standards, levels and regulations.

In addition, we aim to work with Governments, industry and other key stakeholders to raise awareness of this issue, share good practice and support the development of fuel economy policies. GFEI does not provide a ‘blueprint’ for individual countries or regions on the path to improved fuel economy. Instead, we work with interested countries on the basis of a ‘toolkit approach’ - presenting the possible options and their implications, and then offering support in the choices they make.

The role of the GFEI extends to monitoring trends and progress towards an average global 50% reduction in emissions (per km) by 2050. See latest Working Paper for further information.

The GFEI also aims to transfer knowledge and expertise on the fuel economy potential of available and emerging technologies in the sector, provide guidance and support on the development of policies, programs and standards to promote fuel efficient vehicles, garner information and analysis on the international movement of new and second hand vehicles, and the costs and benefits of best practices to promote cleaner, more efficient fleets.


What are the GFEI targets?


We have intermediate targets of 30% improvement of new car fuel economy, worldwide, by 2020 and 50% by 2030. Hitting the new car target for 2030 will ensure we hit the 50% target for the entire stock of cars by 2050.


What does the GFEI target mean in my country?


The GFEI targets are our overall objectives, based on existing evidence, of what existing technologies could deliver in terms of improved fuel economy. It does not favour any of those technologies, nor does it exclude the benefits which other technologies such as electric cars could bring. It is a device to promote the debate about what each country and region could and should do to improve fuel economy in the best interests of local people and the whole planet. As such, it does not prescribe any policy ‘blueprint’, but rather offers a toolkit of possible approaches to the issue. Experience is already showing us that the precise mix of these tools will differ from country to country and region to region. 

Technical issues


50% of what? Do you mean emissions will be cut 50% from today's level?


Our primary metric is vehicle efficiency – with a target to cut vehicle fuel use (and CO2) per kilometre by 50% from today’s level, on average for all cars on the planet – by 2050. Our broader objective is to see total vehicle emissions 50% lower in 2050 than they would otherwise be if we don’t accelerate our efforts to improve vehicle fuel economy. If we follow a business as usual path that accounts for existing agreed fuel economy standards and a natural rate of technological change we expect to see fuel use and emissions roughly double between now and 2050. If we do everything we can to get cost effective technologies fully into the market quickly, aided for example by tough long term standards, we can cut 2050 emissions in half, keeping them capped at today’s level.


What are the existing technologies to which you refer?


The GFEI is technology neutral – we have no preference for specific technologies, as long as we see significant reductions in CO2 emissions, as per the GFEI targets. We think that the 50% improvement of fuel economy can be achieved with existing technologies – so improvements of the internal combustion engine. We feel that it should be left to the industry, consumers and governments to select the technologies they prefer – which depends on may criteria including costs and operating environments (for example if green electricity is available).

However, our organizations have conducted analysis on technology potential, and reviewed other recent studies, and it seems clear that the range of existing – but not yet fully exploited – technologies has the potential to achieve the 50% target. This includes advanced gasoline and diesel engines and drive train systems, more efficient components such as tyres, better vehicle aerodynamics and weight reduction. Some technologies, such as “stop-start” (idle-off) systems, that are being deployed in hybrid vehicles, could be much more widely deployed in all types of new cars. Ultimately, widespread deployment of fully hybridized vehicles will likely play an important role in achieving our targets.


What is the role of plug-in hybrid and electric cars in all of this?


Based on our analysis, the world should be able to achieve the 50-by-50 target, and interim targets, just with existing technologies for gasoline and diesel vehicles. However, as electric vehicles and plug-in hybrid vehicles become available, they may also play an important role, considering they are likely to be very efficient vehicles. And, as mentioned, some parts of the world may need to go beyond a 50% improvement to get a global 50% improvement.

In addition, although the target of the GFEI is stabilization, already ambitious on its own, we should actually go beyond that and reduce the global greenhouse gas footprint of the global vehicle fleet. Vehicles like electric vehicles which have no direct emissions, would be essential to achieve this. However they would need to be introduced very widely, and the electricity used to power them would also need to be decarbonised.

Hybrid vehicles are included in the GFEI – they are internal combustion engines. Actually the GFEI report says that we aim at wide hybridisation of vehicle fleets. Plug-in hybrids and electric are not necessary to achieve the 50by50. That does not mean we do not belief they will play a role or that we do not back these technologies – on the contrary, as explained above, they will probably be needed to compensate for the areas that will lag behind, and they will be needed to go below stabilisation.

Level of ambition


Isn't 2050 rather a long way away?


It is far closer than many people think – only 2 life cycles for the average car. And we have aggressive targets for 2020 and 2030 as well.

To get on the needed path and achieve the 2050 target, and our interim targets, we have a window of opportunity of only about 5-10 years. After that it will be very difficult to improve fuel economy at the rate we need to, and still achieve the new car target of 50% by 2030 in order to reach the global stock average target of 50% by 2050 (50-by-50). There is a significant time lag between the development of fuel economy policies and actions and a reduction of CO2 emissions of the global vehicles fleet. For example, it takes 5 to 10 years for the vehicle industry to design and launch new vehicle technologies, and the full turnover of the stock of vehicles takes 15-20 years. There will also be time needed for the wide dissemination of clean technologies, like hybridization of vehicle fleets. Finally, in most countries in the developing world, fuel efficiency policies still need to be developed.


How will you know if you are on track?


We have intermediate targets of 30% improvement of new car fuel economy, worldwide, by 2020 and 50% by 2030. Hitting the new car target for 2030 will ensure we hit the 50% target for the entire stock of cars by 2050.

As part of the initiative, we have undertaken new, on-going effort to collect data on vehicle efficiency from countries around the world on a regular basis. We track and publically report on efficiency trends and the uptake of technologies. We compare how these trends compare with the trendlines needed to meet our 50-by-50 targets.

The latest results can be read on the GFEI Working Paper 11.


You are not making any suggestions here which might actually slow the growth of the global car fleet – which seems very important - why not?


We absolutely believe that changes in the way we travel – and move goods – will be critical to achieving transport sustainability in the 2050 time frame. Our partner organizations are involved in various projects that assess and promote these mechanisms – such as better transit systems – to encourage a slowing of car sales growth and a greater reliance on non-private vehicle forms of transport in the future. But you can’t solve all problems with a single initiative. In this one, we chose to focus on a particular area that a) is clearly a very cost-effective approaching to saving fuel and cutting CO2 emissions, b) has the potential for the largest cuts in emissions from the transport sector, and c) is still not receiving sufficient attention and coordination on a global basis.

We also need to delink car ownership and car use. What we have seen in many countries is that increase in ownership does not necessarily mean a similar increase in use. For example, if other modes – non motorised, public etc- are available, people will use different modes depending on where they go. Thus promote alternatives, rather than just only trying to stop increase in car ownership – which has shown not be very successful, especially when alternatives are not available.


By saying that all of this can be done using existing technologies aren't you dis-incentivising further innovation?


Our research suggests that we can achieve at least a 50% cut by 2050 on the basis of existing, cost-effective technologies and if we start to ensure that these technologies are widely deployed in new cars as soon as possible. Obviously, the sooner we start, and the more we do in addition – for example by getting new technologies to market, and promoting different behaviour e.g. eco-driving, the more we will achieve and the quicker we will achieve it.

Also, to achieve a global average of 50% improvement, we think some markets will need to lead the way and actually go beyond 50% improvement (just to compensate for those regions/ countries that will be moving slower). In these cases there would be a need to fast track some of the very efficient technologies like plug-ins and electric.

The role of industry


What do car manufacturers think of this?


For this initiative to be successful we need the fullest possible engagement with everyone who has a stake in the issue – and the manufacturers are key to that – as are Governments, consumers, and other global institutions amongst others. We believe the issue of fuel economy is one which has the potential to benefit all of those groups directly, and by helping with the shared problem of climate change. We have already had some discussions with industry which were positive, and we hope to have more here today.

How much will meeting these targets cost the industry?


We are talking about technologies already in production into which investment has already been made. It is also clear that the most forward looking manufacturers of cars and components are already investing massively elsewhere. We believe that if car and component producers, Governments and others can work together on this there should be a massive opportunity for manufacturers who are able to deliver a more energy efficient product, to benefit from a growing global demand for transportation. That is a very positive message given the very difficult times many are now enduring.

The challenge is more on the roll out and massive application of existing technologies (like hybrids or improvement to existing engines and cars) than on developing new technologies. So the GFEI is focusing on the further introduction and application of existing technologies. As mentioned, we can achieve a doubling of the fuel economy of the global fleet with technologies commercially available today. So the cost is not so much in developing new high-tech vehicles as in spreading and applying existing technologies.

Wider issues


What will it take to make this happen – is it a job for politicians?


What we want to achieve is actually quite ambitious – we want to see that ALL vehicles in the world - from New York to Timbuktu - will have, on average, a better fuel economy than the most efficient petrol vehicle commercially available today. And to achieve this, we have only about a 5-10 years timeframe to agree on measures and start implementing them. As some parts of the world will inevitably lag behind, we estimate that some other parts need to make up and actually go significantly beyond a doubling of fuel economy - altogether a huge challenge for the coming decade.

It will need a comprehensive approach with involvement and commitment from all governments, relevant industries, consumers, civil society and international organizations. All the stakeholders will need to be involved to be able to achieve substantial progress. We will need vehicle manufacturers to support specific long-range targets and help identify how to get there. We will need governments to commit themselves to the GFEI targets and to developing measures that can meet them. However, there will be a huge amount of work to be done to achieve this –from setting baselines, generating information on improvement potentials and costs for specific countries and regions, understanding and developing optimal policy approaches, creating awareness, and ultimately sitting down and developing policies to implement these targets.