Same Car, Less Embedded EnergyThe transportation sector is a big polluter, something that must be fixed. We can do a lot of that by walking, biking, and taking transit more, but as long as there are cars around - and most treehuggers would admit that despite all their downsides, cars can be very useful tools in the right circumstances - they should be as clean as possible. Most of the spotlight in that area has been put on things that have to do with the actual operation of the vehicle; gas-electric hybrid powertrains, plug-in hybrids, electric cars, better transmissions, tweaked aerodynamics, CNG buses to replace dirtier diesel, etc.
But what goes on behind the scenes is important, even if it is often invisible to the people who drive the cars. We'll look at Ford's progress as an example, but they are not the only automaker making progress on the manufacturing side. I'm singling them out because they've just released data about it, as well as some goals for the future. It's hard to know how good Ford is doing on that front compared to other automakers without having all the data, but even on their own, the improvements are pretty significant.
According to its latest sustainability report, Ford used 2,778 kilowatt-hours to make each vehicle in its global factories last year, down 22%t from 3,576 kwh in 2006. Part of that is from the use of more energy-efficient production methods and tools, and part comes from running plants more efficiently because they are running closer to capacity.
So not only are some of the automaker's models getting more fuel efficient (quality small cars have made a comeback in the US, and this includes the Ford Fiesta), but they also used less energy to manufacture, and hopefully, over time all of that energy will come from clean sources.
Ford has also pledged to reduce consumption in its factories by an additional 25% by 2016.
An Idea to Increase the Rate of ProgressOf course, manufacturers don't become more energy-efficient just for environmental reasons. They do it to become more competitive and increase their profit margins. But the end result is the same, and our goal as a society should be to accelerate the transition. Maybe feebates could work? You put an extra fee on the least efficiently manufactured vehicles, and the money raised is offered as rebates on the most energy-efficiently made. You can be sure that this will be an excellent incentive for all manufacturers to adopt best-practices and to try to get ahead of the competition to benefit from those rebates!