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Stimulating Low-Carbon Vehicle Technologies

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Governments around the world are increasingly intervening in automobile markets to improve fuel economy and reduce emissions of CO2 from new vehicles. This report reviews the rationale for such intervention and examines measures for maximum effectiveness and minimum cost.

The Round Table brought together economists, policy makers and auto engineers with the aim of advancing understanding of why car markets currently fail to deliver sufficient fuel economy. It started by questioning whether any additional measures would be necessary once an appropriate price for carbon dioxide is established via fuel taxes. It confirmed that there are indeed market imperfections that merit additional government intervention. Fuel economy and CO2 regulations are an essential part of the package. The key to maximising the benefits of such regulations is long-term planning. The longer the timeframe, the less industry investment is handicapped by uncertainty.

Subsidies to electric vehicles are more problematic because of the risks of prematurely picking winning technologies and creating subsidy dependence. And electricity production has yet to be decarbonised. However, intervention to steer innovation in this direction is merited so long as the risks of not attaining climate policy targets are seen as higher than the risks of intervention.

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Summary of Discussions

International Transport Forum

If the transport sector is to make deep cuts to its carbon emissions, it is necessary to reduce the carbon-intensity of travel. Reducing travel itself, at some times and places, is sometimes justified but it is extremely unlikely that under expected global economic development patterns overall demand will decline. This holds true even if there is saturation in some markets and demand management policies are widely adopted. Technological change is therefore crucial. The emerging view is that the focus for decarbonising transport should be first to improve the fuel efficiency of conventional engines and then gradually introduce alternative technologies.

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