Written by James Murray-Jones
We live in times when environmental sustainability is a constant backdrop to our daily lives. Perhaps nowhere is the subject more pronounced than the world of cars. But amongst news of ultra-low emission zones and EU targets to reduce CO2, it be a surprise to discover just how far cars have advanced in pollution-reduction terms.
According to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), it would take 50 new cars today to produce the same pollutant emissions as one vehicle in 1970. Innovations like catalytic converters, widely introduced from 1993, have dramatically reduced carbon monoxide emissions. While diesel particulate filers introduced from 2011, can now capture 99% of soot particles. More recently, selective catalytic reduction systems, are helping to convert Nitrogen Oxides into nitrogen and water.
On top of all these endeavours, there have been terrific strides in fuel efficiency. According to the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) a 1979 Ford Fiesta achieved around 29.5 miles per gallon. Today’s Ford Fiesta achieves 60mpg.
As we head into a new era of Electric Vehicles (EVs), we can reflect on the fact that only 4 electric cars were sold in the UK in 1979. In 2018, that figure reached 141,270.
While all the above are important advances helping to curb the impact on our planet, we can’t escape the fact that car ownership has ballooned. Back in 1979 there were 14.9 million cars on our roads. In 2018 that figure had grown to 34.9 million. When you add in average journey time and frequency of travel, the potential impact on our planet multiplies manifold.
So, while science has made great progress in reducing the burden on our environment, the way people use cars, unravels the process. According to the RAC Foundation, the average car remains idle for 95% of its lifespan, sitting parked on the driveway or roadside between journeys.
Perhaps one of the great unexploited frontiers for environmentally friendly motoring is the simple way in which we can share vehicles. More efficient use of cars could ultimately reduce the total pool of vehicles.
Fewer cars would in turn reduce the environmental impact at every level – the extraction of metals and precious elements used in manufacturing; supply chains delivering components; industrial processes used in factories; the thousands of miles exporting and delivering to the end user.
In the world of motor insurance, there is also much that can be done to facilitate the shift to efficient car use. Annual policies geared to the traditional world of individual car ownership should become more flexible. Temporary insurance policies that encourage shared ownership should become the norm.
Insurance companies can also do more to work with partners to support the concept of shared ownership. Recent years have seen the spread of car sharing platforms like Zipcar, Getaround and Turo. While each of these firms have profit seeking motives, they are based on ideas aligned to environmental needs.
Vehicle manufacturers too are recognising the opportunity. Next year will see Chinese auto brand Lynk & Co enter the European market. Their commercial model will be a hybrid of conventional vehicle sales and a system that allows car buyers to co-own individual vehicles.
What’s more, those same co-owners will be able to rent their vehicles to other drivers using an App-based system that allows them to share their vehicles. The goal for Lynk & Co: to make money through vehicle sales AND vehicle utilisation. The opportunity for co-owners: to make money through shared usage.
It’s interesting to look back over the past forty years to remark on just how far the world of automotive has evolved. Who knows, in ten years time we may look back again with very different perspectives. Perhaps our views will be framed by a point in time when car ownership and car usage fundamentally changed. Car ownership and the open road is certainly one of life’s great pleasures, but perhaps its part of a world in which car sharing and the efficient use of vehicles can play a bigger role.