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Environmentally Benign Automobiles

UCD-ITS-RP-92-25

October 1992

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Suggested Citation:
Sperling, Daniel, Lee Schipper, Mark A. DeLuchi, Michael Q. Wang (1992) Environmentally Benign Automobiles. Access Magazine (1), 21 - 25

(Henry Ford's) dream has come true. There's now more than one vehicle for every licensed driver in the United States, and other developed countries are not far behind.

But has the car's success created the conditions for its own demise? Conventional wisdom of market researchers, consultants, and other experts is that the automobile and its petroleum-powered internal combustion engine will be with us for a long time and that any energy and environmental problems can be readily solved.

The automotive industry would very much like to believe that cheery prognosis — and perhaps it's correct. But suppose it's not. What if global warming and climate change accelerate? What if people and governments begin to demand and expect even higher environmental quality? And how will the United States and other developed nations respond to growing oil imports?

The truth of the matter is that the automotive and energy industries are not prepared — neither in terms of technology nor corporate thinking — for the major changes that are imminent. Just as the American auto industry underestimated the market threat of Japanese imports 20 years ago, the industry may now be underestimating demands for "greener" and more socially responsible vehicles and fuels. If the industry itself is not responsive, government will undoubtedly intervene, as it has in California. And it boils down not to the survival of the automobile itself, but of the automobile manufacturers.