Aftermarket & the Environment Supplement

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David Paterson, GM Canada


Greening the automotive industry

Harmonizing legislation, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, introducing new technologies and standardizing fuel quality are some of the challenges the automotive industry faces today. Jennifer Holloway, web editor of the EcoLog Environmental Resources Group, spoke to David Paterson, a member of the Canadian Automotive Partnership Council and the vice-president of corporate and environmental affairs at GM Canada, about these challenges and where the automotive industry is headed.

Q: Is harmonizing environmental legislation in Canada and the U.S. a top priority for the automotive industry?

DP: That's absolutely right, not only from an environmental perspective, but all regulation of the automotive industry needs to be harmonized across North America. The automotive industry is the most regulated. Harmonization is an ongoing challenge. In 1965, Canada and the U.S. signed the auto pact. This allowed the two industries to integrate and spread the development of technologies throughout North America. Elements of the pact were carried through into NAFTA. Today, the North American automotive industry is totally integrated. To test and certify a vehicle separately for a province's environmental standard would diminish the economies of scale and, in some cases, would stop automotive companies from producing vehicles for that jurisdiction.

Canada has about 40 different regulations related to testing and certification, which are not perfectly aligned with the U.S. For example, there is a different bumper safety regulation. The vehicle must have no impact on the bumper at a higher collision speed. For some vehicles sold in the U.S., this would mean a redesign specifically for Canada. Instead, those vehicles simply aren't sold in Canada.

An environmental example is a Bill passed recently in Nova Scotia. Bill 146, the Environmental Goals and Sustainable Prosperity Act, says that by 2010 Nova Scotia will adopt emissions standards for greenhouse gases (GHGs) and air pollutants from new vehicles similar to those introduced by California. Nova Scotia represents less than 1% of the North American market. If those standards are substantially different than the rest of North America, it's likely the automotive industry will stop producing vehicles for Nova Scotia. Nova Scotians' only choice will be to purchase used vehicles. (B.C. has also said it will adopt a similar regulation.)

Q: How will new technology and fuel quality reduce tailpipe emissions?

DP: I have to make an important distinction here because it's a distinction that not a lot of people understand. Tailpipe emissions have traditionally meant smog-causing emissions. Smog-causing emissions and GHG emissions are very, very different. Technologies introduced to reduce smog-causing emissions, such as catalytic converters, have been very successful. A new car produces about 35 times less smog emissions than a 20-year-old vehicle.

GHG emissions are largely dependent on fuel. The burning of gasoline will always produce carbon dioxide, so we have to look to new fuels and new technologies. Most people are already aware of hybrid vehicles, which combine a gasoline engine and an electric engine. The electric engine is used for in-town driving. Another technology called cylinder deactivation reduces energy use for highway driving. When travelling on the highway, you don't need to use all six cylinders. This technology allows the car to run on three cylinders when it reaches highway speeds. You don't even notice the difference but you conserve fuel.

Electric plug-in cars run on batteries, such as a lithium-ion battery. At night, you plug in your car the same way you recharge your cellular phone. An ethanol product called E85, which is 85% ethanol, can reduce GHG emissions by 45% to 66%. About six million cars in North America today are capable of using that fuel, but there are only 1,200 fuelling stations in the U.S. offering it to consumers.

Fuel can be the real solution. At GM's Oshawa, Ontario engineering centre, we are building 110 hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, which will be part of a test fleet in California since that state already has a network of refuelling stations. The by-product of that fuel is water. This technology would take vehicles out of the environmental equation.

Q: But part of that challenge is to get consumers to purchase newer vehicles rather than hang on to their older cars?

DP: Canada needs to have more incentives or regulations that would convince Canadians to purchase newer vehicles earlier. In Sweden, for example, if you have a biofuel car, you can renew your driver's licence for free. You can also park in downtown areas for free. There are all kinds of incentives. These are smart ones. They are the kinds of incentives the automotive industry has been suggesting in Canada.

GM Canada has partnered with Car Heaven, which is currently the only national program to get older cars off the road and properly recycled. GM offers an incentive to purchase a new, smaller, more efficient vehicle when you donate your old car to the program. (See "All cars go to... heaven?" on page 3.) There are other smaller, regional programs to recycle vehicles, but they need an incentive for purchasing a new automobile.

Q: What about implementing a national Drive Clean program that would ensure all vehicles meet emissions requirements?

DP: A Drive Clean program is not a solution for the long term. Drive Clean only tests for smog-causing emissions. The technologies in newer vehicles are designed to last the entire practical life of those vehicles and, as a result, they will be smog-free throughout their life.

Q: Where do the California GHG tailpipe emissions standards currently stand?

DP: California's current tailpipe emissions standards refer to smog-causing emissions. California was the first to introduce tailpipe emissions standards, largely because of the geographical location of Los Angeles. There was a lot of smog in the valley. When the American national standards for tailpipe emissions were introduced, California was allowed to keep its standards.

Now California has proposed 2008 GHG tailpipe emissions regulations. Those regulations are not in effect, but California has put them forward. The automakers fundamentally believe that we can't have a patchwork of standards from different states. So Toyota, Ford, Chrysler and GM launched a lawsuit against California. The lawsuit is ongoing, but in the meantime, the judge has stayed California's ability to proceed with its regulations.

Right now our eyes are turned to Washington, D.C., where regulators are developing a new national fuel standard. There's lots of debate on it. It's going through the meat grinder of the American legislative system and, like making sausages, it's not pretty.

Canada needs to watch carefully because Canada needs to remain consistent with the U.S. If we were to go our own route, we basically would not have much cause to have an auto industry.

Q: Where's the automotive industry headed?

DP: The vehicles of the future will have better fuel economy and, hopefully, much more diversity in fuel. More importantly, there will be diversity in technology too. The public is just at the stage now where it's starting to learn about hybrid technology. Less than 1% of the vehicles sold in Canada are hybrids.

Hybrids are still more expensive, so people tend to buy more traditional technology. Everyone wants to provide customers with an affordable green choice. A great variety of automotive technologies are competitively coming forward. I think the wise people in our business understand that Canadians want to do what's right for the environment, but they need that affordable green option. If we put those two things together, it will work really well.

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