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Teach-in on auto efficiency

UMEI’s John DeCicco hosted a panel of experts for a teach-in on Automobile Efficiency: Challenges and Opportunities for Addressing a Major Part of CO2 Emissions.

This event was held on Monday, March 9, 2020, 12:00 – 2:00 pm, at the School of Public Health as part of the Commemorative Week of Action for U-M’s Earth Day at 50 activities. It included both oral and slide presentations from the panel as well as an audience discussion; the presentation slides can be downloaded here.

Transportation now exceeds electricity generation as the largest source of CO2 emissions in the United States. Personal motor vehicles — including sedans and other cars as well as pickup trucks, sport-utility vehicles (SUVs) and minivans — are the largest part of the transportation sector, responsible for more than half of its CO2 emissions. Improving fuel efficiency and shifting to electric vehicles (EVs) are critical for mitigating this part of the climate problem. These advances in vehicle design complement options for minimizing vehicle use through regional planning strategies that enable greater use of public transit, walking and biking.

This teach-in provided an update on the status of automobile efficiency and CO2 emissions, examining market trends and policy challenges; highlighting opportunities for improvement and discussing what is needed to speed progress on this crucial climate action front. 

The event was hosted by John DeCicco, associate director and research professor at the University of Michigan Energy Institute. A leading expert on transportation energy issues, John’s past studies helped build the case for stronger automotive fuel economy and greenhouse gas regulations. He also created ACEEE’s Green Book: The Environmental Guide to Cars and Trucks, first published in 1998 and now online at GreenerCars.org.

Other panelists included:

Brett Smith, Director for Technology at the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) and an expert on the challenges and opportunities of implementing innovative technologies and services in the automotive industry. He joined CAR in 2000 after 12 years at the University of Michigan’s Office for the Study of Automotive Transportation (OSAT). Throughout his career Brett has researched many facets of the automotive sector, ranging from technology and product development to facility location and human resource issues.


Chet France, a former senior executive of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) who led the development and promulgation of Federal motor vehicle and fuel emission control programs until he retired in 2012. Currently he is a consultant for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) on projects related to greenhouse gas controls for cars and trucks. While at EPA he was awarded the Presidential Rank Award for Distinguished Service and in 2016 Chet was awarded California’s prestigious Haagen-Smit Award that recognizes significant career accomplishments in addressing air quality and climate change challenges.


Julie Halpert, an award-winning freelance journalist with more than two decades of experience writing for many national publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and CNBC. She has covered the auto industry extensively. Julie also co-teaches an environmental journalism class in the University of Michigan’s Program in the Environment.

Recommended reading: 

DeCicco, J. Why aren’t automakers connecting better with green-minded consumers? Automotive News, 21 May 2018.

DeCicco, J. Despite Industry Pleas, White House Halts Progress on Fuel Economy, Yale e360, 13 June 2019.

EDF. Five things you need to know about the U.S. Clean Car Standards. Environmental Defense Fund, 30 April 2018.

EDF. Comments of Environmental Defense Fund on NHTSA and EPA Proposed Rule for Model Years 2021-2026 Passenger Cars and Light Trucks, 26 October 2019.

Smith, B. Fuel Economy and Greenhouse Gas Regulation in the United States: Change is Coming. Five-part series. Center for Automotive Research (CAR), March-June 2019.

Halpert, J. Passing Fear: Do Fuel Economy Gains Compromise Quick Acceleration? Scientific American, 2 September 2011.