Intelligent Energy

Save the planet: Drive a car, Part 2

Posting in Energy

More reflections on how cars - and trains - will continue to improve environmentally, and on how they could all become one transportation system, from Ford Motor's former top engineer.

Setting the record straight: Richard Parry- Jones, who has ties to both the auto and rail industries, says the most environmentally friendly cars will drop to 25g/km  of tailpipe emissions in about 20 years. That's not as early as suggested in recent reports.

We don't just eat and run here at SmartPlanet. When we find a good meal, we like to stay awhile. Perhaps even go back and enjoy it again, maybe baked instead of fried.

In that spirit, I return to a dish from last week, called Save the environment: Drive a car, which noted that CO2 emissions from the most environmentally friendly cars would drop to a level that matches electric trains by 2020.

I indicated in that story that I was seeking clarification of this astonishing assertion, which I had picked up from a website called Autocar, which had attributed it to Ford Motor's former top engineer, Richard Parry-Jones. Autocar was reporting on Parry-Jones' keynote speech at a recent transportation conference in London.

I received my clarification this morning, when I spoke with UK-based Parry-Jones by phone. To paraphrase his elucidation: right place, wrong time.

Parry-Jones certainly does believe that cars' tailpipe emissions will drop to 40 grams per kilometer (g/km), which equals 25g/km per passenger and rivals today's electric trains.

But this won't happen by 2020. Rather, Parry-Jones says it will take more like 20 years for cars to reduce to that level. Somewhere in either the delivery of his speech or in the original reporting on it, someone got their "20's" mixed up. For the mathematically challenged: Twenty years from now would be 2032, not 2020.

"Of course, by 2030, electric trains will be considerably more efficient again," so cars will continue to trail trains, Parry-Jones added when we spoke this morning.

Still, a plunge to 25g/km per passenger in tailpipe emissions would represent a huge decline from today's average European vehicle of close to 90g/km per passenger, or 140g/km per car, Parry-Jones pointed out. It's also a drop that's environmentally necessary to help stop the build up in greenhouse gases, he said.

Parry-Jones, a former group vice president at Ford, is uniquely positioned to compare cars and trains. He is the co-chairman of the Automotive Council UK, a joint government/industry automotive group. He is also the incoming chairman of Network Rail, a privately owned company that maintains the UK's rail infrastructure.  And he's the managing director of his own company, RPJ Consulting.

How can he head both an automotive initiative and a rail group? Isn't there an inherent conflict? Or could rail and auto essentially blend into one intelligent transportation system, saving energy, time, congestion, costs and the environment? Chew on that overnight, and tune in to SmartPlanet tomorrow to find out. Y'all come back now, ya hear?!

Photo: thecarmarket.co.za

Previously, on SmartPlanet:

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure