When we go to buy a vehicle, we look at different characteristics to choose the one that best suits us, such as the brand, design, size, price and fuel consumption. If we are concerned about the environment, we can also find out about CO₂ emissions, but what priority would we give it over the other variables?
In order to find out the relevance that the carbon footprint has in the process of buying a vehicle, from the Repsol Foundation Energy Transition Chair at the Polytechnic University of Madrid, together with the Corell Foundation and the GAD3 consultancy, we have carried out carried out a study on the perception and valuation of new mobility technologies in road transport.
This is a demoscopic study in which 1,503 people between the ages of 18 and 65 have been interviewed.
The work sought to meet three objectives:
Identify the level of knowledge of citizens about the problems derived from emissions into the atmosphere from road transport.
Identify the level of knowledge of citizens about the different existing technologies in the sector to combat this problem.
Analyze the degree of influence that the perception of the citizen has on the technologies in their purchase decision and in the reality of the sector.
Lack of knowledge about CO₂ emissions
The main results show that 83% of Spaniards state that they are aware of the CO₂ emissions generated by road transport. In addition, higher percentages are shown in the case of individuals in possession of their own car (84.4%) and those who have higher education (87.3%).
However, when delving into the matter of CO₂ emissions, we have verified that there is a great lack of knowledge about this environmental problem.
Firstly, 87% of those surveyed mistakenly believe that CO₂ emissions are harmful to health, being confused with the emission of other pollutants that do directly affect air quality and the health of people and ecosystems, such as nitrogen oxides, particulate matter or sulfur oxides. CO₂, along with other greenhouse gases (GHG), is responsible for climate change, by increasing its concentration in the atmosphere.
On the other hand, only half of those surveyed know that, from a regulatory point of view, vehicle manufacturers only have to report direct emissions emitted through the exhaust pipe, and not the rest of the emissions associated with the manufacturing process. generation of the energy source or the manufacture and maintenance of the vehicle. As I already described in a previous article, the CO₂ emissions associated with these processes are also very relevant.
Emissions throughout the life cycle
Lastly, when respondents were asked about the concept of net emissions or emissions in the life cycle, only three out of ten stated that they knew the term clearly. We also verified that knowledge decreases with increasing age.
The term net or life cycle emissions includes GHG emissions (CO₂ being the most relevant in this sector) associated with the life cycle of both the fuel or energy source, and the vehicle itself.
There are numerous studies that try to increase the databases related to GHG emissions from each of the phases. However, the focus of the majority continues to exclusively understand the life cycle of the energy source (from its production to its use; from the well to the wheel) or simply the use phase, which is not addressing the problem in its entirety.
Thus, taking the battery electric car as an example, its emissions in the phase of fuel use are zero. This is where the false belief comes from that the electric car has no net CO₂ emissions: 50% of those surveyed think so. It is not taking into account that the electricity has to be generated and the vehicle, like all its components, manufactured, maintained and managed at the end of its useful life.
In order to carry out a comparison between the different technologies that can contribute to the decarbonisation of the sector, it is necessary to analyze this entire life cycle, both of the energy source (generation and use), and of the vehicle itself: extraction of raw materials, processing of the materials necessary for the manufacture of the vehicle, assembly, distribution, maintenance and management at the end of its useful life.
Regarding these different options that can contribute to the decarbonisation of the sector, it should be noted that only 60% of those surveyed know about electric vehicles. This percentage drops even more when asking about other alternatives, such as synthetic, renewable or hydrogen fuels, where only 3 out of 10 state that they are aware of these other alternatives to reduce CO₂ emissions.
Decisions based on incomplete information
Our results suggest that the public is not receiving correct, or at least complete, information, which generates a great lack of knowledge that can tip the balance towards a specific purchase decision.
When asking those surveyed if they would be willing to spend more money on a car that generates less environmental impact, the answer is mostly affirmative, with the electric vehicle being the most chosen option.
However, when the citizen has to choose between a series of characteristics in the vehicle purchase process, other options prevail such as consumption, vehicle size, brand, design, extras, price, etc. Emissions of CO₂ and other pollutants ranked ninth among the 12 characteristics presented.
Another result that is important to highlight is that 50% of the surveyed population affirms that the lack of clarity regarding the different technologies and the evolution of emission regulation has delayed their decision to purchase a new car.
Therefore, as the main conclusion of the study on environmental matters, it should be noted that the citizen does not really know either the problem generated by CO₂ emissions, or the different existing technological solutions to combat it. In addition, it seems to be evident that the environmental factor is not yet ahead of other determining factors in the process of buying a new car.
Given this situation, it is urgent to inform and disseminate to clarify concepts and that complete and truthful information reaches the public. This effort must be carried out at all levels: academic, media and from the public administration. Since college, we will keep trying.
This article has been written in collaboration with Nerea Cortina Fernández, a student at the Higher Technical School of Industrial Engineering of the Polytechnic University of Madrid.