Auto sales ‘overshoot’ will make it impossible to prevent the worst effects of climate change

Toyota, Volkswagen, Hyundai, and other major automakers are on track to sell 400 million more diesel and petrol vehicles than is feasible to stave off the worst effects of climate change, Greenpeace Germany concludes in a new report.

Transportation currently makes up a quarter of fuel-related greenhouse gas emissions globally, with half of that coming from passenger cars. Many automakers have pledged to phase out the sale of petrol and diesel vehicles by the end of the decade in favor of electric vehicles. But the damage to the climate will already have been done by then, according to Greenpeace.

“Leading auto manufacturers, including Toyota, Volkswagen, and Hyundai, are transitioning far too slowly to zero-emission vehicles, which has dangerous consequences for our planet,” said Benjamin Stephan, climate campaigner at Greenpeace Germany, in a statement.

“Leading auto manufacturers, including Toyota, Volkswagen, and Hyundai, are transitioning far too slowly to zero-emission vehicles”

The group determined that in order to prevent global temperatures from rising above the 1.5 degrees Celsius threshold, no more than 315 million new diesel and petrol vehicles can be sold worldwide. But current planning by the auto industry is misaligned with those goals, according to the report. If auto sales continue at the present rate, the industry is on track to sell 712 million diesel and petrol vehicles by 2040 — or an “overshoot” of 396 million cars.

Chevy electric vehicles

Electric vehicle sales are climbing, but not fast enough to prevent the worst effects of climate change.
Photo by Andrew Hawkins / The Verge

Unsurprisingly, the world’s largest automakers are the biggest culprits in this overshoot. Here’s how each company is expected to exceed the threshold:

  • Toyota is projected to sell 2.6 times the maximum number of diesel and petrol vehicles necessary to mitigate the worst effects of climate change, or 63 million extra vehicles.
  • Hyundai and its subsidiary Kia are expected to sell 2.4 times the maximum number, or 39 million vehicles in excess.
  • Volkswagen is predicted to sell 2.1 times the max number, or 39 million more vehicles.
  • General Motors is projected to sell 1.6 times the number of petrol and diesel vehicles, or 13 million extra cars.

The report — which was authored by researchers from the Institute for Sustainable Futures, University of Technology Sydney, the Center of Automotive Management, and the University of Applied Sciences — projected future auto industry sales based on an “assessment of EV sales quotas and combustion engines phase out dates” announced by the four major auto manufacturers listed above.

They then based their sales projections by modeling three scenarios for each manufacturer: “an S-curve transition scenario to battery electric vehicles, a linear transition scenario, and a combined scenario that serves as the base case.”

“Toyota, Volkswagen and other leading automakers are on a collision course with the climate,” Stephan said.

Photo by Amanda Lopez for The Verge

In an email to the Verge, a spokesperson for VW touted the companies €52 billion investment in electric vehicles and infrastructure, which he said would result in the automaker’s carbon neutrality by 2050. He also cast doubt on the conclusions of the report, noting it was “impossible” to verify their accuracy.

“As in the past, market composition will continue to shift in the future, eg with regard to model groups/vehicle classes, so that static assumptions/projections are sometimes subject to considerable uncertainties,” the VW spokesperson said. “Moreover, it is inaccurate to make forecasts regarding manufacturer-related strategies based on overall market estimates.”

Spokespersons for Toyota, GM, and Hyundai did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ICE Bubble Report by Andrew Hawkins on Scribd

The report is a stark reminder that despite pledging to go carbon neutral by electrifying their lineups, most automakers continue to manufacture and sell carbon-emitting vehicles — and will continue to manufacture and sell those vehicles unless more drastic measures are taken.

Most of the major car companies have publicly set goals for electrifying their entire vehicle lineups

Most of the major car companies have publicly set goals for electrifying their entire vehicle lineups and reduce the amount of carbon emitted as a result of the manufacturing process. Some, like VW, GM and Volvo, have gone further, declaring intentions to be fully carbon neutral by the end of 2040 (or in VW’s case, 2050). But these voluntary efforts don’t go far enough in reducing the right amount of carbon emissions from the passenger vehicle market, the report’s authors conclude.

Some governments have stepped in to accelerate the process, but have characteristically been slow or ineffective in their enforcement. Elected officials are implementing bans on the sale of diesel and petrol vehicles, including California, New York, the UKand Singapore. More are expected to follow, but Greenpeace says that time is running out.

Of course, the report’s conclusions are not being released in a vacuum. A landmark United Nations report declared that carbon emissions must be halved this decade if we’re to secure a livable future.