February 2011: Do people who are concerned about climate change drive green cars?

By , January 25, 2011 8:59 pm

February 2011, Market Intelligence Article for Sustainable Business Magazine, reproduced with permission.

Peter Winters, President, Haddock Research & Branding

Double-click on the offprint below to see it in a larger size.

Much of the marketing for new electric cars has been to do with their low-carbon credentials. Yet, what is the evidence that people’s level of concern about climate change has any impact on the overall car market? Our data shows that in North America, Climate Citizens are significantly more likely to use lower-emission cars than Sceptics/Uninvolved; yet this pattern was not observed in England. Could this be to do with the range of car types available, how people see car transport within their overall travel mix, the time lag between being concerned about climate change and changing the cars-on-the-road, and/or the environmental credentials of diesel?

 

The start of 2011 has marked some major milestones in the commercialisation of electric car technology. Rising fuel prices and government incentives are currently encouraging customers to consider having their next car run on electricity. Since the start of the year, the first three out of nine electric car models have become eligible for a grants of upto £5,000[1]. A similar level of tax credit is available for plug-in electric vehicles in the US[2], where the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf are generating a number of very positive trade reviews. Amongst other awards, the Volt has just won the North American Car of the Year at the 2011 Detroit Motor Show, with the Leaf a runner-up[3].

Much of the marketing for these new electric cars has been to do with their low-carbon credentials. A current Nissan Leaf advert features a polar bear hugging the new Nissan Leaf owner[4]. Yet, what is the evidence that people’s level of environmental concern has any impact on the overall car market? Do ‘greener people’ currently drive ‘greener cars’?

We tested this idea on our Environmental Choices data for England, Canada and the USA using the null hypothesis that ‘there is no relationship between people’s concern about climate change and how ‘climate-friendly’ their car is’.

I was quite surprised by the result. The test showed that in North America, Climate Citizens are significantly more likely to use lower-emission cars than Sceptics/Uninvolved. This difference is especially pronounced in Canada (at over 99% confidence), and directionally significant in the US (90% confidence). Yet, in England the study showed no evidence that Climate Citizens use lower-emission cars than Sceptics/Uninvolveds.

It will be interesting to explore further what might be behind this. Comparing England with North America, is it to do with the range of car types available, how people see car transport within their overall travel mix, the time lag between being concerned about climate change and changing the cars-on-the-road, and/or the environmental credentials of diesel? To take the last point, around a quarter of English cars are run on diesel, a fuel little used in North America. Whilst diesel provides better tail-pipe emissions than equivalent petrol cars, it may be difficult to think of diesel as being ‘green’, especially when it generates 12% higher emissions per litre than petrol[5].

And how green will people really see electric cars in North America, the UK and elsewhere? Will more countries follow Norway’s advertising guidelines in saying that no car is really ‘green’[6]? Will the EPA take into account full fuel life-cycle estimates in generating Greenhouse Gas Scores for electric cars, and how would they do it[7]?

Here are some technical details of our analysis. The EPA[8] and the Department of Transport[9] provide information about the exact fuel-efficiency performance and greenhouse gas emissions of cars sold from the year 2000. For the North American data, we strictly matched the 2000 to 2008 vehicles by model-year, model-type, displacement and fuel-type. If possible, pre-2000 vehicles were matched just against the last three criteria, taking into account that this would not be possible for those models discontinued by the year 2000. We also did not make a match if the respondent information did not exactly tally with the available cars shown in the EPA data, or if the information was ambiguous, or if the EPA had not rated that vehicle. In all, we were able to identify Greenhouse Gas ratings for 2,232 (63.3%) of the 3,527 cars used in the households of the Canadian and American Environmental Choices respondents. We conducted the analysis described in this article on the 1,093 cars for which the respondent was mainly responsible.  For the UK data we took a similar approach, although, given the amount of variation in model types, we were a degree less strict in our matching criteria. Also, one assumption we did make to undertake the analysis was to take the CO2 rating for the manual transmission version of each car (an unimportant issue for the EPA data). In all we matched 1,168 (82.4%) of the 1,417 cars used in the English households. The analysis was conducted on the 596 cars for which the respondent was mainly responsible.


[1] ‘Electric car revolution revs up’, BIS, Department for Business Innovation & Skills, 14 Dec 2010 – http://www.bis.gov.uk/news/topstories/2010/Dec/electric-car-revolution-revs-up-for-2011

[2] ‘Energy Provisions of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, IRS.GOV, April 2009, http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=206871,00.html

[3] ‘Chevy Volt wins car of the year; Ford Explorer takes top truck’, USA today, January 10, 2011,

http://www.usatoday.com/money/autos/2011-01-10-volt-car-of-the-year-explorer-truck_N.htm

[4] ‘Very cute Nissan Leaf polar bear TV ad’, September 11, 2010,

http://www.energyboom.com/yes/very-cute-nissan-leaf-polar-bear-tv-ad-video

[5] This calculation is derived from calculating the relative CO2g/km ratios to combined fuel economy figures for diesel versus petrol in the Department of Transport car ratings found here – http://www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk/downloads/. Comparable EPA data is shown here http://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/GHG_Score_2008.pdf

[6] Norway says cars neither “green” nor “clean”, Reuters, September 6, 2007 http://www.reuters.com/article/idUSL0671323420070906

[7] The EPA is currently exploring new vehicle labels to use with electric cars, and the drafts indicate that pure electric cars have zero greenhouse gas emissions – ‘Proposed Label Designs for a Range of Vehicle Technologies’(pdf), EPA, August 2010, http://www.epa.gov/fueleconomy/label/420f10049.pdf . Elsewhere, the EPA makes the point that an alternative way of calculating the greenhouse gas impact would include ‘full fuel lifecycle estimates, considering all steps in the creation and consumption of the vehicle fuel, from production and refining to distribution and final use’. Greenhouse Gas Score, EPA, retrieved January 11, 2011 – http://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/Aboutratings.do#aboutgreenhouse. In Europe, car emissions standards have a crucial role in determining the environmental impact of cars for legal obligations and taxation policies. The bottom-line issue is how well these emissions data accurately represent the relative climate change impact of different car types, and specifically electric car models.

[8] ‘Green Vehicle Guide’ EPA, http://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/Download.do . Notice that the calculation would be more complicated for vehicle models after 2008 as the Greenhouse Gas scoring system has changed. For 2000-2008 models see http://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/GHG_Score_2008.pdf ; for 2009-2010 models see http://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/GHG_Score_2009_2010.pdf ; for 2011 models  see http://www.epa.gov/greenvehicles/GHG_Score_2011.pdf

[9] Government data for UK cars – http://www.vcacarfueldata.org.uk/downloads/


One Response to “February 2011: Do people who are concerned about climate change drive green cars?”

  1. […] cars driven by Climate Citizens is significantly better than those driven by Sceptics/Uninvolved (6.15 v 5.48) [17]. The environmental impact of tar sands development is actively debated[18], leading to […]

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