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How less heavy vehicles can help cut CO2 emissions

The average mass of passenger cars in the European Union has increased by around 40% over the past four decades. Additional vehicle mass consumes more energy and results in higher CO2 emissions. A reduction in vehicle mass could contribute to achieving emissions reduction goals.

A new study by the International Transport Forum (ITF) finds that CO2 emissions from passenger cars and light commercial vehicles could be cut by almost 40% (compared to 1990 levels) if their average mass were reduced from currently c. 1 400 kg to c. 1 000 kg (for passenger cars) and from c. 1 800 kg to c. 1 100 kg (for light commercial vehicles) to the year 2050.

This is nearly twice the CO2 reduction projected without a lowering of average vehicle mass.

The study also finds that lighter cars are advantageous for vehicle owners in financial terms, as reduced fueling costs outweigh the increased costs for buying a lighter vehicle.

Reducing the average mass of passenger cars and light commercial vehicles to the level of the mid-1970s can approximately halve the gap between the baseline scenario (in which vehicle mass remains unchanged) and the European Union’s target of a 60% reduction in transport CO2 emissions by 2050 (compared to 1990) applied to these vehicle categories.

To fully reach the target, other measures will thus also need to be put into place.

Based on these findings, the report’s main recommendations include:

  • Consider the potential of vehicle mass reduction when designing climate policies
  • Do not rely on vehicle mass reductions alone to achieve the European Union’s target of a 60% reduction of transport CO2 emissions
  • Nudge consumers into buying lighter vehicles by emphasising their benefits.

 The study was carried out by ITF researchers in collaboration with, and funding from, the Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA).

 The report is available for free download at https://www.itf-oecd.org/less-heavy-vehicles-cut-co2-emissions

 Media contact: Michael KLOTH