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Interaction of consumer preferences and climate policies in the global transition to low-carbon vehicles


Burgeoning demands for mobility and private vehicle ownership undermine global efforts to reduce energy-related greenhouse gas emissions. Advanced vehicles powered by low-carbon sources of electricity or hydrogen offer an alternative to conventional fossil-fuelled technologies. Yet, despite ambitious pledges and investments by governments and automakers, it is by no means clear that these vehicles will ultimately reach mass-market consumers. Here, we develop state-of-the-art representations of consumer preferences in multiple global energy-economy models, specifically focusing on the non-financial preferences of individuals. We employ these enhanced model formulations to analyse the potential for a low-carbon vehicle revolution up to 2050. Our analysis shows that a diverse set of measures targeting vehicle buyers is necessary to drive widespread adoption of clean technologies. Carbon pricing alone is insufficient to bring low-carbon vehicles to the mass market, though it may have a supporting role in ensuring a decarbonized energy supply.

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Fig. 1: Share of EDVs in 2050.
Fig. 2: Marginal abatement cost for CO 2 emission reductions from light-duty vehicles.


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We acknowledge funding provided by the ADVANCE project (FP7/2007–2013, grant agreement number 308329) of the European Commission. P. Kolp, D. Huppmann and M. Strubegger of IIASA provided critical assistance with MESSAGE-Transport model development. B. Girod (ETH-Zürich) helped with IMAGE model development. N. Lutsey of The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) referred us to the most up-to-date information on AFV-supporting policies at the time of writing.

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Authors and Affiliations



D.L.M., C.W., V.K. and K. Riahi designed the research. H.P., C.W., Z.L. and K. Ramea contributed data for the modelling. D.L.M., M.B., E.ÓB., S.C., O.Y.E., J.E., C.G., P.K., I.K., V.K., L.P., K. Riahi, B.S.R. and D.P.v.V. implemented the modelling. D.L.M. wrote the manuscript, with all authors contributing.

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Correspondence to David L. McCollum.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Tables 1–5, Supplementary Figures 1–18, Supplementary Discussion, Supplementary Methods, Supplementary References

Supplementary Data 1

Model assumptions for annual driving distances and consumer group splits by region

Supplementary Data 2

Model assumptions for (dis)utility costs by non-financial attribute, consumer group, vehicle technology and region

Supplementary Data 3

Model assumptions for capital costs of light-duty vehicles over time in each model’s USA region in the ‘AFV Push’ scenario with US$100 per tCO2 carbon pricing

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McCollum, D.L., Wilson, C., Bevione, M. et al. Interaction of consumer preferences and climate policies in the global transition to low-carbon vehicles. Nat Energy 3, 664–673 (2018).

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