Some aspects of automotive fuel economy policy in Germany

Some aspects of automotive fuel economy policy in Germany

Resources and Conservation, 10 (1983) 25-28 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., Amsterdam -Printed SOME ASPECTS OF AUTOMOTIVE GERMANY WOLFGANG FUEL E...

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Resources and Conservation, 10 (1983) 25-28 Elsevier Science Publishers B.V., Amsterdam -Printed







Ministerialrat Bundesministerium (Received

25 in The Netherlands



fiir Wirtschaft, 5300 Bonn (F.R.G.)


in revised

form May 3,1983)

ABSTRACT Energy conservation policy in the Federal Republic of Germany is principally based on the effects of market prices. The government acts only to support the adjustment process. Advising and informing consumers to influence driving behaviour on the one hand, and a dialogue with the automobile industry and importers to decrease by technical means the fuel consumption of passenger cars on the other, are the main means. Restricting speed limits to conserve fuel on federal motorways and setting fleet consumption standards by legislation are not considered appropriate.

Energy conservation is an important goal of energy policy in Germany. Included are all energy-consuming sectors of the economy, private households, industry and the public sector. This article reflects the principal guidelines of conservation policy in the transport sector. An assessment of automotive fuel economy policy requires knowledge of a few figures to illustrate the importance of the transport sector. Twentytwo per cent of energy consumption in the Federal Republic is accounted for by this sector and 97% of the energy used in this sector is derived from petroleum. This represents roughly a third of the total amount of petroleum consumed in the Federal Republic. Of additional importance is the fact that two-thirds of the oil used in the transport sector is consumed in individual transport, in other words, by passenger cars. Efforts toward energy conservation should, therefore, be focused on individual transport. They should be aimed at conserving and replacing petrol and diesel fuel, in order to decrease the high degree of oil dependence in this sector. In carrying out these objectives, the federal government is guided by the principle of using legislative or administrative means only when the market mechanism fails to reach the goal. This is a fundamental principal part of the energy-conservation policy. It applies to the industrial and private sectors as well as the transport sector. The federal government attaches fundamental importance to the influence exercised by energy prices on the market. As a rule, the government acts on-


ly to support and correct trends. It prefers to cooperate with industry and consumers and to rely on reasonableness and voluntary action rather than to use administrative approaches in the form of legal provisions. Advice and information play important roles. Some examples are: campaigns to disseminate information on economical driving behaviour, on vehicle maintenance, on organizing driving pools on so on. For corresponding measures in television, broadcast, newspapers, etc., there is a yearly budget of about 20 million DM” (1981). Results achieved to date have confirmed the effectiveness of this policy. Drivers have clearly become more intent on conserving fuel. This is demonstrated by the fact that the historical close correlation between gasoline consumption and car population seems to have slackened. Until the middle 1970s there was a traditional parallel between gasoline consumption and car population. In contrast, during approximately the past two years, the growth rate of gasoline consumption was lower than the growth rate of car population. For instance, from 1978 to 1979, the car fleet grew by 4.6% and gasoline consumption by only 1.3%. In 1981, despite a growing car population of 1.6%, a decrease of gasoline consumption of 6.1% has occurred. With regard to such a development, the federal government will continue to rely strongly on the initiative of consumers and on the effects of the energy prices. In the case of real oil crisis, patterns of consumption could, of course, be regulated legislatively. Petrol could, for example, be rationed and driving could be prohibited, as necessary. During the 1973/1974 oil crisis, driving on certain Sundays was prohibited and there was a general speed limit of 100 km/h on motorways. In periods during which the supply situation is relatively relaxed, measures such as such restrictive speed limits on motorways are not considered appropriate. This topic has been the object of detailed discussions. The federal government has come to the conclusion that a mandatory speed limit on federal motorways would not have an appreciable energy-saving effect. In this connection, it should not be forgotten that the Federal Republic has for a long time had speed limits of 50 km/h in built-up areas and of 100 km/h on rural roads. Furthermore, substantial parts of the federal motorways are subject to speed limits for safety reasons. On the whole, only 1.3% of the entire German road network is free of speed limits. And while roughly a quarter of the mileage travelled occurs on the motorways, it should not be overlooked that lorries, buses, and passenger cars with trailers are already subject to speed limits. The government is observing the situation closely and has decided to review appropriate legal measures in case of a change in the supply situation or in driving habits. Actually, the recommended maximum speed of 130 km/h is considered as sufficient. As spot checks repeatedly have shown, the majority of drivers observe this limit. *l DM = 100 Pfenning (Pf) = $2.26 (1981).


A possibility for conserving petrol far more important than speed limits is, for example, the construction of motor vehicles with greater fuel efficiency. The federal government has long been engaged in a dialogue with the German automobile industry and with importers on the necessity of energy conservation in the transport sector. The main topic of discussion is the possibility of decreasing the fuel consumption of passenger cars. The talks and negotiation between government and industry are based on the realization that lowering the specific energy consumption has become an important element of the competition in the road vehicle market. Therefore, it is not considered necessary to regulate the specific energy consumption of passenger cars by legislation - for instance, by setting fleet consumption standards. Maximum consumption levels set by the government are not likely to speed up the ongoing technological progress made in this area. The federal government considers it to be more productive to have German automobile producers and importers adopt voluntary standards. The most important and central aspect of this understanding is the agreement to reduce by 1985 new road vehicles’ specific consumption by 15% of the 1978 level. The federal government is informed each year by the car industry and the importers about the success of fuel-saving efforts. The progress reports for 1979 and 1980 indicate that consumption by passenger cars was reduced by just under 6% on average compared with 1978”. It is, therefore, justified to assume that the target set for 1985 will be reached. This cooperation with the automobile industry also includes aspects such as increasing the availability of fuel-saving extras in new vehicles and the industry’s advertising and information campaigns in favour of energy-conscious driving, As mentioned, consumers are driving decidedly more fuel-efficiently. It must also be mentioned that the federal government and the automobile industry do not only pursue a joint strategy aimed at energy conservation, but are also interested in improving car safety and environmental protection. It is clear that these may at times be conflicting targets. Joint efforts are being undertaken to find out how it is best possible to give equal consideration to safety, energy conservation and environmental protection. Another impressive sign of energy-conscious behaviour on the part of motorists is the growing proportion of diesel engines. The federal government supports this trend. When mineral-oil taxes were raised on 1 April 1981, the Government increased the tax on diesel fuel by only 3 Pf/litre while petrol tax went up by 7 Pf/litre. In order to encourage the substitution of alternative fuels for petrol, efforts are being made to promote the use of liquefied gas and methanol. In order to improve the economic advantage of gas-driven vehicles the federal government exempted liquefied gas from the mineral-oil tax increase in April 1981. Demand for vehicles powered by liquefied gas can be seen to have *This article was written in 1981. The actual available data indicate a reduction of the consumption by passenger cars of 11% (1981 compared with 1978).


gone up sharply since this measure. The oil companies have stepped up their efforts to expand the necessary infrastructure, in particular the filling-station network. Tests with alcohol-based fuels, especially methanol, have for a long time received state support. Even today a small portion of methanol (up to 3%) is currently added to gasoline. The automobile industry has given a pledge to the federal government that as from 1981/82, all new models will be fitted with parts resistant to methanol-gasoline admixtures of up to 15%. Fleettests with methanol cars are being supported with public funds. Obviously, conservation efforts in the transport sector do not focus exclusively on driving techniques and reducing specific energy consumption. For example, a shift in emphasis has taken place from road construction to an expansion of the rail network. Moreover, a host of measures have been taken to improve traffic flow: improved traffic-light control, traffic guidance systems and bypasses are but a few examples. They show, however, that a successful energy conservation policy cannot be a one-way street where duties are imposed on the automobile industry alone. The tasks must be tackled jointly and apart from the motorist. The public sector, i.e. the federal government, Laender and local authorities, all of which exercise decisive influence on transport infrastructure, must assume a rule of particular responsibility .