World Vehicle Production in Trouble–Converting to Rail?

Recently, my colleague Alice McKeown posted a piece about world automobile trends on our Dateline: Copenhagen blog page.  I re-post the piece here, since these trends are of significance not just in an energy and climate context, but are also crucial with regard the emergence of a greener economy.

In an increasingly energy- and climate-constrained world, greater vehicle fuel efficiency is a must if auto industry jobs–already under threat from recession and deep changes in the industry’s global structure–are to be secured.  But public policy also needs to strike a new balance among transportation modes.  In a blog entry posted here yesterday, I observed the growing interest in rail, and the likelihood that substantial numbers of new jobs could be created both in manufacturing rolling stock and in operating new or expanded systems. But given that the world auto industry suffers from massive over-capacities, serious thought also needs to be given to converting some of this capacity toward producing vehicles for public transportation systems, rather than seeking to churn out a steadily growing number of cars and trucks.

–Michael Renner

While U.S. legislators and journalists focus their attention on the safety and financial implications of Toyota’s recall—now expected to cost more than $5 billion over the next year—broader auto trends indicate that the industry as a whole is in trouble. Global production of cars and light trucks dropped 13 percent in 2009, marking the second year of declines in a row. Most of the traditional leading countries saw significant declines in domestic production, although a few markets saw noticeable jumps: China (45 percent increase), India (9.5 percent), and Brazil (3 percent). China is now the most dynamic force in vehicle production as it overtook Japan as the world’s largest automobile producer last year and now outpaces the United States as the world’s largest national motor vehicle market. The rapid growth in emerging markets has contributed to a 55 percent increase in the number of passenger cars on the world’s roads since 2009.

The effects on greenhouse gas emissions and climate change due to the reshuffling of vehicle production and use remain unknown. Current biofuels in use today are achieving only minimal, if any, emission reductions, and a more promising second generation of biofuels is still years away from commercial production.  With international calls to limit and reduce global emissions, will hybrid and electric car technologies be able to hold down the emissions of a growing fleet?

Learn more about the numbers and the latest vehicle trends in Michael Renner’s “Auto Industry in Turmoil, but Chinese Production Surges” from Vital Signs Online.

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