U.S. cars and light trucks produce a fifth of all carbon dioxide in this country associated with problems of global warming, and those emissions have begun to surge after decades of steady decline, a new study says.
The report by Environmental Defense, a New York-based advocacy group, blames the problem on an auto industry that has catered to mounting consumer demand for light trucks, sport-utility vehicles and minivans that provide more room and power but less fuel efficiency.
New vehicles built in 2000 by General Motors Corp., Ford Motor Co. and DaimlerChrysler AG, for example, emitted a disproportionately large amount of carbon dioxide for their share of the overall market, according to the study.
General Motors, the largest U.S. automaker, claimed 28.3 percent of the sales but almost 30 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions, the study said. Ford, the No. 2 company, accounted for 25 percent of the emissions and just under 24 percent of the market. And DaimlerChrysler got 16.6 percent of U.S. sales while accounting for 18 percent of the emissions.
Emissions of carbon dioxide from American cars and light trucks nearly match those of all sources in Japan, and exceed those of India and Germany, which rank fifth and sixth among the world's countries in terms of global warming emissions, the study found.
"Each year automakers roll out fleets of cars and trucks that add increasing amounts of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere," said John DeCicco, senior fellow at Environmental Defense and the study's chief author. "Over the past decade, they have put their design and marketing talents into anything but addressing their products' harm to the planet and liability for oil dependence."
The report comes just weeks after California enacted legislation mandating a reduction in greenhouse gases coming from the tailpipes of all passenger vehicles sold in the state, a move that could change the kinds of cars Americans drive in coming years. The California law addresses not the gases that cause smog but the invisible, odorless emissions that some scientists say appear to be contributing to slow but risky heating of the planet.
Although the new regulations will grant engineers wide latitude for design solutions, the new greenhouse gas emission standards for California will affect drivers nationwide, because California, with its 35 million residents, represents 10 percent of the national car market.
Until recently, concerns over global warming have been largely focused on emissions from U.S. power plants, which are responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gases emitted in this country.
Automakers complain that California is taking a unilateral step to increase the fuel efficiency of vehicles, something the U.S. Senate refused to do this year. Because carbon dioxide is given off whenever gasoline is burned, the only way to reduce it in vehicles is to sell models that consume less gasoline or are fueled by electricity or other means.
Industry officials say that automakers are working on advanced technology to move from carbon-based fuels to hydrogen fuel cells within the next decade or two that would eventually eliminate new cars as sources of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.
For now, they say, carmakers are merely responding to consumer demand for bigger vehicles that are safer in crashes, operate off-road on rough terrain, and have room for tools and materials. Many of those vehicles, such as DaimlerChrysler's popular Jeep
Grand Cherokee, have an average fuel economy of 22 miles per gallon, while the smaller and less popular Chevrolet Cavalier, Ford Escort and Chrysler Neon can get 30 miles a gallon or more.
"We have produced 50 different models that get 30 miles to a gallon or better, but very few people buy them and they just sit on the lot," said Eron Shosteck, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers.
The Environmental Defense report, "Automakers' Corporate Carbon Burdens," examines the decline of fuel efficiency and what it says is a corresponding rise in carbon dioxide emissions from 1990 to 2000. The study assigns a "carbon burden" to each of the six major U.S. automakers based on market share and average fuel efficiency. U.S. drivers burn 126 billion gallons of gasoline a year, a 56 percent increase from 1970, the report notes.
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