Gobar Times
Cover Story

Mobility Costs

Godhuli and Shamik discover why cars in India are


Godhuli and Shamik. Remember the two friends who went to the same school and who were working together on a class room project on global fuel prices (Issue dated 1-15 August, 2008) a few months ago? Well, here they are again. But, hey don’t they look different? Gone are the anxious, careworn teenagers reeling with shock as they explored the impacts of a massive energy crisis. They look positively festive now. They are out to survey the automobile market. Shamik’s parents are all set to add a new vehicle to the family fleet, which currently consists of a motorbike and a small car.

Godhuli: So, have you made up your mind? Is it going to be a small or a big car? Or are you looking for a gigantic sports utility vehicle (SUV)?

Shamik: (waves his hands impatiently): No, no, we will never go for a SUV. Or even a big car. Who wants a giant fuel guzzler?

Shamik: See, this time my parents have made up their minds. Big or small, luxury or basic model…. we will buy a car that gives the best mileage per litre of fuel.

Godhuli: Aha, that’s a smart move. So you will check fuel economy in the various models, or the amount of fuel required to move the vehicle over a certain distance. But where will you get the data, so you can compare one from the other?

Shamik: Why, it is the easiest thing to get! Every company announces it. Here let me tell you. Our dealer just told us the best we can expect among small cars is 16-18 kilometres per litre (kmpl); 12-14 kmpl in medium sized ones. As for the big ones….

Godhuli: Stop, stop…Before you rattle off some more, check if these figures are printed anywhere. Do you have them in writing?

Shamik: (Scratching his head) Actually no. But I have seen the commercials in television; read about these models in auto magazines. Surely they will not lie publicly!

Godhuli: They don’t display any specific figure there also… just a lot of tantalising visuals. The fuel economy level of Indian car models is confidential. There is no official policy to get carmakers to publish the levels of models they make. We, the customers have to rely on anecdotal information, the car-owner grapevine, car companies’ selfproclamations or data the niche car magazines publish. No government agency officially certifies the claim of the companies.

Shamik: (Looking upset) But that’s not fair! So if the car we buy does not deliver the promised mileage we can take no action against the manufacturers!!!

Godhuli: Of course we can’t. And it is a very unfair system. Especially since this is extremely important data, that we must have access to.

Now, is this information really important or is Godhuli just trying to scare Shamik?

  Why... this state of affairs?   
In fact, the alarm bells should have been ringing a long time ago. Out of the 98 oil-producing nations in the world today, 64 are on terminal decline. So the stocks have clearly dipped to a  dangerously low level. But the demand for oil—worldwide—remains persistently on the rise.

This leaves us with just three options. Reducing consumption; using the remaining stocks efficiently and prudently; and exploring alternate sources of energy. But first we must identify the largest user so that the checks can be put in place. One need not look too far. The transport sector is by far the most voracious oil guzzler. By 2035 in India, for instance, cars and other on-road vehicles are expected to consume six times more fuel than they do now!

This sector already consumes more than 40 per cent of our country’s total oil and oil products. While more than 98 per cent of the total petrol stock runs the transport sector, nearly 62 per cent of the total diesel meets the road transport needs. The scary fact is that its appetite is growing at a furious pace. So, does India need strict fuel efficiency standards? Of course it does.

   India: Transport   

Mobility is a constant challenge in both rural and urban India. So the country is motorising rapidly. As per the Union Ministry of Shipping, Road Transport and Highways (MoSRTH), total number of registered vehicles (including cars) have increased from 10.6 million in 1986 to 72.7 million in 2004.

However, our commuting demand is getting diverted towards personal vehicles, thanks to rising income; changing consumer preferences; and easily available loans. No wonder the annual growth rate for cars in India is 16 per cent. In Delhi, cars have increased by 132 per cent between 1996 and 2006!

And the car boom has inevitably led to larger and larger volumes of fuel being devoured….

   From small to big   

People are not only asking for more cars, they are opting for bigger ones. Trends in vehicle sales show that customer preference is steadily shifting towards bigger cars and sport utility vehicles (SUV). Problem is, these cars require more fuel per kilometre of travel.

   From railways to roadways   

The freight traffic is continuously shifting from railways to roadways. Estimates show that Indian roads carry almost 74 per cent of freight and 80 per cent of passengers annually. The share of railways in freight traffic has come down to 26 per cent in the past decades.

But, is that a problem? Yes it is, because trains can carry more goods in one round than trucks. So, the fuel required to carry the same amount of goods is much more in trucks than railways. This reduces the fuel economy of the roads.

   Diesel dilemma   

The primary fuel used in the big vehicles and trucks is diesel. But, this fuel complicates the trade-off between efficiency and clean emissions. Diesel ensures greater fuel economy, as the it contains more energy per litre than petrol. But, diesel particulates are more hazardous and harmful than petrol emissions. Also, the carbon dioxide released per unit of energy in diesel is higher than petrol. Even black carbon, emitted from diesel vehicles, is a potent greenhouse pollutant.

This is not all…

   Emission Issues   

There is no room for any doubt. Discussions, debates, dissensions on Climate Change are hinged on the transport sector. The reason is obvious. Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions have recorded the steepest climb in this sector, in the past decade. In the industrialised countries the jump has been 24 per cent higher, as compared to the other sectors of economy. In India, we have very limited and dated data on this. Still, experts predict a breathtaking 90 per cent rise in emissions between 2005 and 2035. And as the most intensive user, the transport sector plays a key role here.

   No Fuel-freedom    

The most distressing trend here is that India’s domestic crude oil production will not be able to meet even the smallest fraction of this surging demand. Already, we import 78 per cent of what we require. As our thirst for oil grows we will become more and more dependant on other countries to survive.

A very uncomfortable thought, don’t you agree? So what is our country doing to tighten its belt, fuel wise?

   India Today   

Nothing at all. In fact, there are no set guidelines to regulate fuel efficiency of cars in India.

Nobody knows how fuel-efficient our cars are. Consumers are keen to know how much fuel they can save from fuel efficiency standards, especially as the cost of transportation rises day-by-day. But, there is no official policy to make car  manufacturers reveal the fuel economy levels of the vehicles, or undergo any certification to back their claims. It is a scene of total confusion, even at the ministerial level!

   Standard Fight   

In 2004, the Union Ministry of Road Transport, Shipping and Highways (MoRSTH) issued a legal mandate to the manufacturers to get their vehicles (manufactured on and after April 1, 2005) tested for fuel consumption. But, neither the manufacturers nor the Pune-based vehicle certification centre Automotive Research Association of India (ARAI) share this information. The data is not accessible even under the Right To Information Act! Two years back, a push for efficiency regulations came from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). In the beginning, ministries were confused as to who should set the standards. Then all of them entered the fray, triggering a major fight.

The MoSRTH, which regulates toxic emissions from vehicles, is not authorised (legally) to regulate energy consumption in vehicles. The Central Motor Vehicles Act and Rules, 1989, allows it to only make rules for “emissions of smoke, visible vapour, spark, ashes, grit or oil” and “standards for emission of air pollutants.” Energy can be regulated only under the Energy Conservation Act, 2001, administered by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE), an autonomous body under the Union Ministry of Power. BEE sets norms for all equipment and appliances “which consumes, generates, transmits or supplies energy”.

Fearing the loss of control over this vehicle-related legislation, MoSRTH tried to take the Climate Change route. Since vehicles are the primary source of carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, standards should be set to regulate these directly, it argued. So a committee was set up to formulate emissions standards in cars.

The step baffled the Union Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF), which supervises climate action in India, and thus, should deal with CO2 emission issue. Next came the Union Ministry of Heavy Industries, which is in administrative charge of the automobile industry. It challenged the legality of the BEE process under the EC Act.

Now the bitter wrangle has forced the PMO to intervene. It has decided to constitute an inter-ministerial group to set standards for fuel-efficiency in the country. But why so much of confusion? Because the automobile industry is doing all it can to resist fuel economy standards.

   Companies cover up   

The Indian automobile industry has been on warpath. Companies argue that this data is ‘trade secret’, and cannot be made public. Fuel efficiency is a car’s unique sales proposition. Those not meeting customer expectation will lose market. They are also scared of customer wrath – what if the on-road performance of vehicles does not match industry claims? It would give rise to a storm of litigations, that will sweep them away.

So, instead of fuel economy, the industry wants standards for carbon dioxide emissions. This would shift the focus from the energy plank to the climate action platform.

But, why are the companies so anxious? Even the countries, which have stringent fuel economy standards, mention a clause of ‘under ideal circumstances’. This means, the standards do not provide absolute values of fuel economy but set benchmark to indicate the fuel economy performance, which can help the consumers to make a choice and also helps industry to improve technology effectively. So, the fuel efficiency level can be a little above or below the benchmark.

In spite of this, the automobile industry is apprehensive about the standards. Does this mean that the fuel economy levels of our vehicles are so low that manufacturers are scared of revealing these to the consumers?

Or is it that the car makers are unwilling to do the little technological tweaking required to make cars more fuel efficient?

The latest stance taken by the industry is that it will opt for the ‘voluntary scheme’. As per this, it will self-label the vehicles and provide data from January 2009. But, this is neither mandatory for the manufacturers, nor will it have any legal backing. So, no one knows how reliable or dubious the information would be. Meanwhile, as controversies and confusions intensify, countries across the world have already enforced fuel economy regulations.

   Other Countries   

The United States, especially California, the European Union, Japan, Canada, Australia, China, South Korea and Taiwan are some of these nations.

However, each has adopted the regulations according to its own requirements, priorities and interests. Broadly, there are two approaches:

Regulation of fuel consumption or fuel economy of vehicles: This is done either by setting a standard based on fuel consumption per unit of distance travelled by a vehicle (litre per 100 km); or, regulate miles or kilometres per unit of fuel used (km/l). Japan, and China have set fuel economy regulations.

Regulation of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including carbon dioxide: Emissions of GHGs from vehicles is also linked to fuel consumption. While California is the only region in the world to have adopted GHG emissions standards for vehicles, the EU directly regulates carbon dioxide emissions from its fleet.

    A word of caution    

A lot can go wrong if fuel economy regulations are not properly designed. For example, the US made the mistake of keeping the standards for SUVs lax initially, when the numbers were very small. When the share of SUVs skyrocketed over time, the average went completely awry. Again, the EU had entered into a voluntary agreement with the car industry associations to meet the carbon dioxide emissions reduction target by 2008, on a fleetwide basis, and expected to make huge fuel savings.

But voluntarism just did not work, and the EU nations failed to meet the carbon dioxide reduction target. Obviously, this kind of voluntarism and regulations that are hard to monitor will not work in India. Like China, India needs to develop a system that is mandatory, and is easy to monitor and enforce.

Type of regulations
Measures of fuel economy
Structure of regulations
  The United States   Corporate average fuel
  economy (CAFE)
  Miles per gallon

  Fleet average of cars and light trucks

  European Union   Fleet average carbon   dioxide   Gm/km   Overall light duty fleet
  Japan   Fuel economy standards   Km/l   Standards for 16 weight-based vehicle   classes
  China   Fuel economy standards   L/100-km   Standards for 16 weight-based vehicle   classes
  California   GHG emission standards   G/mile   Car/ light duty trucks (LDT1 and LDT2)
  Canada   Fuel economy standards,
  GHG emission reduction   target
  L/100-km   Cars and light trucks
  Australia   Fuel economy   L/100-km   Overall light duty fleet
  Taiwan, South Korea   Fuel economy   Km/l   Engine size

Easy way to stop pollution and save your lungs

  Take a bicycle or use public transport.   

  • If you take a train or a bus instead of a car to work or school for an entire year, and the distance is about 20 km each way, you will prevent 800 kg of CO2, being pumped into the atmosphere, corresponding to 300 litres of petrol.
  • If you avoid taking the car on short trips and use the bike or walk instead, you spare the environment of almost an entire kilo of carbon dioxide per trip. And you get some exercise in the bargain.

 Leave your car at home! Each time you do so... 

  • You avoid polluting the air with particles. Particle pollution is one of the major environmental threats. Particles come mostly from the exhaust of diesel cars, but certain types of petrol cars also emit particles. Furthermore, both petrol and diesel cars contribute to particle pollution from tear on brakes, tyres and the road. the smallest particles are the most harmful; since they are so small they can travel far down into the lungs without being coughed up.
  • You also avoid creating nitrogen compounds that can lead to acidification of watercourses and lakes. Hydrocarbons and nitrogen compounds can also irritate the respiratory system, and some hydrocarbons cause cancer.
  • You also reduce emissions of CO2 to in the atmosphere, one of the most important reasons for climate change. The transport sector alone accounts for about 30 per cent of overall emissions.
  • You reduce noise pollution and the risk of road accidents. Car traffic in the cities is a substantial source of noise, and noise can lead to problems in the form of stress, high blood pressure and reduced ability to function, for the people exposed to the noise.

A car free day
is an event organised in different places in different ways. The common goal is taking a fair number of cars off the streets of a city or some target area or neighborhood for all or part of a day, in order to give the people who live and work there a chance to consider how their city might look and work with a lot fewer cars.

    Tips and Tricks on Green Driving    

Shift your style. Smooth, steady driving (as opposed to the herky-jerky, vroom-and-brake approach) saves huge amounts of fuel and curbs harmful emissions. For additional greenness, stick to the speed limit – less fuel, more milage.

Don't idle. Restarting is the way to go: a car idling for nine minutes emits double the pollutants of a car that is turned off and then restarted. Try to avoid rush-hour traffic, and turn off the engine if you are at a standstill for 30 seconds or more.

Get serviced. Keep your car tuned, follow the maintenance guide, and change the oil, air filter, and brakes when needed: out-of-whack engines reduce fuel efficiency by as much as 20 per cent. To minimise drag – another pox on fuel economy – keep your tires properly inflated.

Go to mass. Transit, that is. Metro rail is best for CO2 savings; buses come in second; and heavy rail takes third. If you can't use public transport, try carpooling.

Bike, scoot, stroll. Propelling yourself by foot or two-wheels is alternately fun, which is a lot more than we can say about most forms of fourwheeled travel. Or just put on your walking shoes and leave the smallest footprint of all.

Buy Green. New green hybrid cars can cost mega-bucks. But if you can get past the affordability hurdle, by all means, leap – or look for a conventional car that gets great mileage. Get the best, the cleanest, most fuel-efficient vehicle that suits your needs.

Or you could always convert: Transform a gas hog into an electric car or convert a petrol engine into one that runs on CNG.

    Facts on mobility    

  • Sixty-five per cent of all carbon monoxide emitted into the environment is from road vehicles, which besides being fatal, contributes to global warming by removing hydroxyl radical from the air, allowing buildup of methane (a powerful greenhouse gas). Source: Greenpeace’s Environmental Impact of the Car, 1992
  • In African communities cargo transported on the (usually a woman’s) head or back is on average 17 kilograms. One could comfortably carry 50 kg on a bicycle; 150 kg with the attachment of a trailer. Unfortunately, cultural mores discourage women from using bicycles. Source: Bikes for Africa; Institute for Transportation and Development Policy
  • Countries like Brazil, Turkey, India and Kenya are spending from 30 to 50 per cent of their foreign exchange on oil imports. The 45 per cent of the annual increases in fuel emissions causing global warming and creating serious health problems can be attributed to the growth of private car use, expected to double by the year 2010 from the current fleet of 500 million cars. Source: Michael Replogle and Walter Hook, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, in Race, Poverty and the Environment, Fall 1995 (Earth Island Institute)

    Whither India?    

The verdict is out.

The government must ensure that cars are designed to make the most of the last drop of oil. This is the magic armour that will protect India from the impacts of a global energy crisis, and the threats of rising greenhouse gas emissions. Such regulations to control fuel use will also receive wholehearted support from the long-suffering consumers who spend a lion’s share of their income in feeding family vehicles! As our policy makers begin to hammer out the standards they need to keep a few issues in mind.

    No voluntarism   

Voluntarism does not work. Global experience stands witness to this. Standards should be mandatory and legally binding. There should be enforcement measures and penalty for those who flout them.

    Design standards carefully   

Standards should be designed carefully to prevent leakages. Efficiency gains have to be balanced with emissions control strategies. For instance, diesel cars may be fuel-efficient, but they can increase toxic emissions.

   Create disincentives for heavier, bigger, and diesel cars   

Tax policies must prevent shift towards bigger and heavier vehicles, while also reducing car usage. China provides a good model, in which, efficiency standards for the heavier vehicles are more stringent. However, small cars should also achieve clean emissions.

   Devise technological solutions    

Fuel economy regulations should push innovations and introduce advanced technology options, such as electric hybrids. Technical approaches like weight reduction and better engine technologies will also aid fuel savings.

   Open access   

Government must step in to make automobile companies report certified data on fuel economy and carbon dioxide
emissions on a regular basis.

Godhuli: So you see, India just cannot afford unrestricted fuel guzzling. The mounting import bills, fluctuating fuel prices, rising air pollution…the threats are too ominous to ignore.

Shamik: I just hope the inter-minsterial committee that the PMO is about to set up will do its job without bias. If the
standards are designed wisely and implemented on time, they can ensure enormous fuel savings.

Godhuli: Yes. But now tell me, which brand have you chosen?

Shamik: I have chosen to ensure my country’s energy security. I will tell Ma and Baba we don’t need another car.


Slider Heading: 
Cheap & dirty