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US DOE estimates future potential of hybrid and diesel cars

4 September 2004

The US Department’s of Energy (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory released a new report which estimates the growth of gasoline hybrid and diesel light-duty vehicles in the USA. The report, titled “Future Potential of Hybrid and Diesel Powertrains in the US Light-Duty Vehicle Market”, forecasts growth of 4-7% in light-duty diesel vehicles by 2012.

“Diesel and hybrid technologies each have the potential to increase light-duty vehicle fuel economy by a third or more without loss of performance, yet these technologies have typically been excluded from technical assessments of fuel economy potential on the grounds that hybrids are too expensive and diesels cannot meet Tier 2 emissions standards. Recently, hybrid costs have come down and the few hybrid makes available are selling well. Diesels have made great strides in reducing particulate and nitrogen oxide emissions, and are likely though not certain to meet future standards,” concluded the authors of the report.

The study predicts that by 2008 hybrids could capture 4-7% and diesels 2-4% of the light-duty market. These shares could increase to 10-15% for hybrids and 4-7% for diesels by 2012. The resulting impacts on fleet average fuel economy would be about +2% in 2008 and +4% in 2012. Authors of the study also noted that if diesels and hybrids were widely available across vehicle classes, makes, and models, they could capture 40% or more of the light-duty vehicle market.

Current penetration of diesels amounts to 0.2% of the US light-duty vehicle market, according to Allen Schaeffer of Diesel Technology Forum, a group representing manufacturers of diesel engines, engine components, and related industries. “When compared to forecasts for hybrid technology, the Oak Ridge study predicts an overly conservative estimate for diesel technology growth (4-7%), one that is at odds with other recent studies that predict more than double the market penetration (10-15%) in the same timeframe,” said Schaeffer.

The study forecast that diesel engines should be able to meet Tier 2 emission standards. The added cost of emission control systems, however, will make the cost penalty in diesels comparable to that in hybrid vehicles.

Diesel technology accounts for over 40% of the new vehicle market in Europe. The increasing diesel market is driven by good performance of modern diesel engines, superior fuel economy, and—from the regulatory standpoint—reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The major obstacle preventing diesels from wider entry into the US market are the stringent NOx emission limits in the federal Tier 2 and, even more so, the California LEV II emission standards. For new passenger cars and light light-duty trucks (LDT), Tier 2 standards phase-in beginning in 2004, with full implementation by 2007. For heavy LDTs and medium-duty passenger vehicles (MDPV), the Tier 2 standards will be phased in beginning in 2008, with full compliance in 2009.

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