September 20, 2018 | DLR Study for Greenpeace

How must the passenger car fleet develop in order to limit climate change?

  • On behalf of Greenpeace, DLR scientists investigated how the European car fleet must evolve to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.
  • Two scenarios describe which developments are necessary to achieve this goal with a probability of 50 percent and 66 percent, respectively.
  • The two scenarios were developed using the simulation software VECTOR21 developed at DLR. With this special program, researchers can see how the car market needs to evolve to achieve specific goals.
  • Focus: Transport, Intelligent Mobility, Electromobility, Climate Change

In a study commissioned by Greenpeace, researchers from the German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt, DLR) investigated how Europe's car fleet must develop in order to achieve the Paris Climate Agreement objective of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

One objective – two scenarios

Researchers from the DLR Institute of Vehicle Concepts in Stuttgart developed two scenarios for this: the first describes what is required with regard to the passenger car fleet and car market in order to keep global warming below the 1.5 degree Celsius level with a 50 percent likelihood. The second scenario sets a target probability of 66 percent to reach this objective. Both scenarios are based on data by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In both scenarios, the scientists assume a theoretically remaining carbon budget, which they have calculated based on the current emissions of the transport sector and then broken down to the private mobility sector. The remaining carbon budgets for the 28 EU member states plus Switzerland and Norway (EU28+2) are 6 in the 50-percent-likelihood scenario and 3.6 gigatons in the 66-percent-likelihood scenario.

DLR VECTOR21 software for extensive scenario analysis

"Using the VECTOR21 simulation software developed at DLR, we can describe how the car market must develop in order to achieve certain objectives. In our latest study, the likelihood is that global warming will remain below the 1.5 degree mark," says DLR researcher Bent van den Adel, who was responsible for leading the research.

According to the study, the 50-percent scenario is still achievable, given the assumption that no more purely petrol or diesel-powered cars will be sold from 2030 and, from 2037, no more hybrid vehicles with combustion engines. As a result, the number of cars with conventional drives will steadily decline and, by 2050, there will only be alternatively-powered cars on Europe's roads, with the exception of a few hybrid vehicles.

In contrast to this, the 66-percent-likelihood scenario is unachievable and the required carbon budget will be exceeded – despite extremely progressive assumptions about the development of the car fleet: the last new petrol or diesel-powered cars will already be sold in 2025. From 2030, there will only be zero-emission cars on the market. The number of vehicles with conventional drives will dramatically decline, dropping to zero by 2045.

Conclusion: urgent, timely action needed

"Both scenarios highlight the extreme urgency of the topic, as well as the need to consider and implement all available courses of action as quickly as possible," summarises van den Adel. If, however, Europe's car fleet continues to develop as before, DLR researchers estimate that the passenger car carbon budget for EU28+2 would be completely depleted in the 50 percent scenario within 10 years. In the 66% scenario the carbon budget would be depleted within five years.

Underlying assumptions of the study

For both scenarios, the DLR researchers assumed that no low-carbon fuels are available and all potential vehicle technology solutions for saving carbon dioxide have been fully exploited. The study does not take into account biomass and synthetic fuels or the possible easing of pressure on the transport sector as a result of carbon-dioxide-savings in other sectors. The scientists assumed that the car would continue to play a major role in private mobility, although behavioural changes were not part of the analysis.


Denise Nüssle

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Pfaffenwaldring 38-40, 70569 Stuttgart
Tel: +49 711 6862-8086

Bent van den Adel

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institute of Vehicle Concepts
Pfaffenwaldring 38-40, 70569 Stuttgart

Dr.-Ing. Stephan Schmid

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institute of Vehicle Concepts
Vehicle Systems and Technology Assessment
Pfaffenwaldring 38-40, 70569 Stuttgart