Alternative-fuel vehicles

In the past, integrated assessment models have typically relied on average “per-capita characteristics” of consumers and have, therefore, fallen short in representing behavioral factors in a detailed way. The Energy Program’s MESSAGE modeling team has enhanced its treatment of these factors, focusing in particular on modeling decisions to purchase light-duty vehicles.

© Viorel Dudau | Dreamstime

© Viorel Dudau | Dreamstime

Consumer preferences strongly influence the adoption of new end-use energy technologies, with consequent effects on greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and therefore global energy system transformation. Therefore, in addition to the direct costs of vehicle technologies, the MESSAGE team has incorporated non-monetary vehicle purchase considerations (e.g., range anxiety, risk aversion, and lack of refueling or recharging infrastructure) into the modeling framework. These features vary in a heterogeneous way for different types of consumers, as well as across countries. The ultimate goal is to better understand which incentives might help to nudge consumer behavior towards a low-carbon transformation of the global vehicle market.

  • This research, which is being conducted in the context of the Advanced Model Development and Validation for Improved Analysis of Costs and Impacts of Mitigation Policies project has led to a number of valuable insights:
  • In the enhanced scenarios, alternative-fuel vehicles show a lower and slower uptake over the coming decades, at least until technologies and their requisite refueling or recharging infrastructure have increased market penetration. Such delay has a marked effect on cumulative greenhouse gas emissions coming from the transport sector.
  • If non-cost barriers to vehicle adoption continue to persist over the long term, stronger price-based policy incentives may be required to incentivize mitigation of light-duty vehicle emissions.
  • Non-price-based measures could also be needed to transform the light-duty vehicle sector, in the early-market phase of advanced vehicles. For example, policies supporting early-stage recharging or refueling infrastructure could bring down these barriers, while vehicle purchase subsidies could help compensate for them.

Other critical uncertainties influencing the future uptake of alternative-fuel vehicles are related to technology progress and economics. Therefore, in collaboration with researchers at Toyota Central R&D Laboratories (Japan), ENE scientists are developing a new modeling tool for quantifying the potentially necessary conditions for achieving various future vehicle mixes. The tool will complement the MESSAGE integrated assessment modelling framework by helping to evaluate the possibility of scenarios of achieving long-term GHG and petroleum reduction targets.


[1] McCollum DL, Wilson C, Pettifor H, Ramea K, Krey V, Riahi K, Lin CB, Edelenbosch OY, Fujisawa S (forthcoming). Improving the behavioral realism of global integrated assessment models: an application to consumers’ vehicle choices.


Toyota Central R&D Labs, Japan

University of East Anglia, UK

Oak Ridge National Laboratory, USA

University of California, Davis, USA 

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Last edited: 13 May 2016


David McCollum

Guest Senior Research Scholar Energy, Climate, and Environment Program

Guest Senior Research Scholar Integrated Assessment and Climate Change Research Group - Energy, Climate, and Environment Program

Guest Senior Research Scholar Sustainable Service Systems Research Group - Energy, Climate, and Environment Program

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